A technology that only time can perfect
Of all the members of our community, we should trust police officers more than anybody else. But why do we fear police officers and get nervous while in their presence? We should not fear police officers because their job is to protect and serve, yet too many incidents of police brutality have made us feel otherwise. Police, government officials, and most importantly, U.S. citizens are aware of this and have thought of several ideas to fix this ongoing problem. Some people believe that total reform to police training is necessary, but this idea seems very extreme. Thanks to modern technology, many U.S. cities are beginning to use body-equipped cameras. These cameras seem to be the only new advancement made in helping disputes of police brutality. Too many police have escaped justice for killing innocent and unarmed citizens, and body cameras seek to stop this problem by providing accurate evidence. Studies have shown, that if used correctly, the implementation of body cameras will be beneficial in reducing rates of police brutality and accurate video evidence will resolve many disputes in court.
A few years ago, police chief Tony Farrar conducted a controlled randomized experiment to try to test the effectiveness of police body cameras. This is one of the first studies done to try to help the problem of police brutality. In 2013, Farrar tested the cameras in Rialto, CA for a whole year and his findings heavily supported the use of body cameras. Farrar found that when “officers wear cameras use of force fell by 59 percent and complaints against officers dropped by 87 percent compared to the previous year’s totals.” This overwhelming evidence is proof that body cameras will be beneficial. It is believed that since the police are under constant surveillance, they will be less inclined to use force, and in turn, rates of police brutality will decrease. However, police and their supporters believe this is invasion of privacy, but the videos will only be used in a court of law. The video footage will be updated after the officer’s shift and will only be referred to if necessary. Farrar received several awards for his study and can be trusted. After this experiment, it inspired many cities in the U.S. to at least try the body cameras.
In April, the Chicago Police department received a shipment of 450 body cameras to be distributed to cops in areas with the highest crime rates. Tony Briscoe, a journalist for the Chicago Tribune, has reported that “body camera program comes at a time when surveillance is of the utmost priority for Chicago police as the department cracks down on officers.” Many officers are lacking to report broken dashboard cameras, and turn off the microphones. This problem of covering up came to light when 17 year old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by a police officer. Of the five officers that were there, all of them had malfunctioning cameras. In an incident like this, body cameras would be very useful. If they were equipped with body cameras, there would be accurate video evidence that could show if the police had probable cause to open fire on the suspect. An incident like this causes distrust within the community. Briscoe quotes Superintendent Eddie Johnson, an avid supporter of body cameras for several reasons, “[body cameras] play an important role in not just fighting crime, but also in learning from actual encounters with the public.” He goes on to explain that just equipping the cameras will help police regain the trust of the community. From Briscoe’s article, it seems that body cameras are what the police need to help record evidence, regain trust, and reduce incidents of police brutality.
With the anticipation of the body cameras, skeptics have been testing the effectiveness of the cameras once they finally equipped. Four authors from the New York Times, Williams, Thomas, Jacoby, and Cave, published an article showing the studies of Seth W. Stoughton. The study tried to test how effective the cameras will be. Stoughton, a former police officer and now a law professor at University of South Carolina, supports the new technology but warns us that police must be trained to use them correctly. He published a series of videos using similar cameras and “believes they will increase accountability and better educate people about police work” (Williams, Thomas, Jacoby, and Cave). Stoughton believes that cameras will be beneficial because police will regain trust and the people will be more understanding of police with accurate video evidence. The video series shows many different ways that the evidence can be confusing, but shows us how to prevent this confusion. There must be at least two officers present so one can film his own interactions and the other can film from a reasonable distance. Since the video evidence only shows the police perspective, suspects may be underrepresented by the videos. Stoughton also warns us about our own biases. He uses the videos to show that we all have our predetermined judgments, and that confusing videos might lead to disagreements over the evidence. If police are trained properly the confusion and disagreements will be minimized.
Anti-police brutality protestors, or police supporters, believe that cameras are not necessary. They argue that police are just doing their job, but if they were doing their job correctly, they would be able to detain suspects without using deadly force or guns. They also argue that police need their privacy and should not be monitored during their shifts, but these precautions are necessary, and many police are not scared to be recorded constantly because they should have nothing to hide. Also, the video recordings of the police will be stored and held only unless it is needed for a court case. Superintendent Eddie Johnson said “in addition to myself, I’ve asked my command staff to wear one.” Johnson supports the use of body cameras and even the mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, supports Johnson and his decision. If both of these officials support body cameras, then it must be beneficial.
The addition of body cameras will reduce the use of force by police and also help the police regain the trust of the community. In Farrar’s post, he explains that in his study, use of force decreased significantly. From Stoughton’s experiment and his video series, it is clear that proper training for body cameras will help make them as efficient as they can be. Stoughton also warns us that although this technology will be beneficial, there will always be disputes of what actually happened. People carry certain biases and that maybe affected by a confusing piece of video evidence. Lastly, police supporters argue that the privacy of officers are invaded; however, many officers are excited to start using these cameras. Body cameras will gradually become better and more accurate, but for now they are a good start to help solve the problem of police brutality. (1151)