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Pros of Body Worn Cameras

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Body cameras for law enforcement was an exciting new concept for officers when it first came out. Unfortunately, the technology was not cheap by any means. Reliability also came into question when departments were looking into this new equipment. Like any technology, the battery life suffered in cold weather climates. Also, the officer had to remember to actually turn the equipment on when they responded to a call which proved to sometimes be an issue. But this new technology has helped a lot of officer keep their jobs, because video on the camera disproved falls claims by a complaint about misconduct by the officer. In fact in Phoenix Arizona allegations of misconduct found to be true decreased 53.1 percent once the department started using body cameras.

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Police worn body cameras as of lately seem to be a major topic of discussion. There are many people that support the idea of cameras being a standard-issue part of a police officers’ uniform and others who feel like officer should not be required to wear a body camera. Body worn cameras were created to aid in the collection and management of evidence, and to provide more transparency between officers and the citizens they serve (Ansari, 2018). However, with new technology comes issues many have not thought of. When this advance technology started to become implemented in departments across the country many questions arose. 

Such as what are the rules governing two party consent, and the restrictions of recording in instances where privacy is expected, and do current laws apply to body cameras (Ansari, 2018)? The laws that govern the use of body cameras has not fully been implement. Instead cities and county governments are forming them as we go since there is no single policy that governs the use (Ansari, 2018). Initially approximately 30 states started to create some type of guidelines governing the use of body cameras. The initial push in legislation centered around body cameras came in the year 2014. What this legislation did was it gave governments the ability to create committees in order to evaluate the new technology, in order to create policies (Ansari, 2018).

Once agencies gathered more information on the new equipment, they started to look into the rules governing the publics access to the video on the body worn cameras by creating standard policies, requiring certain officers to wear the cameras, and by implementing a grant program so that other law enforcement agencies could get the technology for their officers, and looking into retention time for videos for evidence purposes (Ansari, 2018). States are still working on fine tuning the policies that they have made especially in terms of the access that the general public can have to the footage. Transparency is a huge aspect of government. If the government is not transparent in everything, they do the general public can start to form a distrust in that entity and in the government as a whole.

As we have seen in the past several years there has been a ton of media coverage revolving around officers shooting and killing unarmed citizens. The two most notable stories are that of Michael Brown from Ferguson Missouri and Freddie Grey from Baltimore Maryland (Wright, 2018). These incidents even though the officers were found to have been justified in the shootings still caused the general public to lose trust in police officer and the legal profession as a whole. According to a poll conducted by Gallup in 2015 it was found that the publics confidence in officers was at the lowest level it has been in over 22 years (Wright, 2018).

Researchers at Florida Atlantic University also conducted their own study in regards to public perception of the new technology. What they did was select two different counties to participate in this study. Those counties were Palm Beach county, and Escambia County (Florida Atlantic University, 2017). Their findings were that approximately eighty seven percent of the participants in this study were in agreement with each other that body worn cameras by police officers would help improve the officers conduct (Florida Atlantic University, 2017). Seventy percent feel that these cameras would help in the improvement on how citizens interact with the officers (Florida Atlantic University, 2017). 

Researchers hypothesized that those who had negative views of law enforcement would be the ones supporting the body cameras the most. But much to their surprise, that was not the case (Florida Atlantic University, 2017). They found that those who supported officers and had a positive view of them were the ones with the most support for the body worn cameras. Which is actually surprising, because if someone supports something why would they willfully take extra steps and support a cause that will expose any and every little thing. This could be due to the fact that they want the truth to come out that all the officer involved shootings of an unarmed citizen are not as people see them. 

The video would show that the so-called innocent citizen did something that forced the officer to have to take lethal action, and that mommy’s little angel is not an angel after all. Another result of this study that surprised the researchers was that those who were most concerned about criminal activity in their area we less likely to support the implementation of body worn cameras (Florida Atlantic University, 2017). This result like the one above was surprising. One would think that if someone is concerned about criminal activity and officer conduct, they would be the most in support of the body worn cameras. But according to this research study that is not the case.

A police chief in the town of East Dundee which is a small town just outside of Chicago jumped on board to get the body cameras citing officer safety as one of the big reasons. However, before the cameras were delivered to the department the police chief retired and a new chief came in scrapping the program all together. The new chief felt the twenty-thousand-dollar annual fee for the cameras and storage for video was to steep a price to pay for such a small town (Kindy, 2019). After the United States saw a rash of officer involved shootings the public lost a lot of trust in law enforcement. With that governments latched on to the idea of body cameras and cited it as an avenue to gain th e publics trust back (Kindy, 2019). 

But many departments are facing the same issues that East Dundee faced in terms of the cost. A department in Nebraska had to scrap their program due to a law that was passed requiring 90-day retention of body came footage which carried a hefty price tag of $15,000 (Kindy, 2019). In Arlington County Virginia decided against this technology because the estimated annual cost of $300,000 which they could not justify (Kindy, 2019). As you can see there is a very common theme across the several departments listed above and that is the sheer cost of having this technology.

According to Jim Pasco who is the executive director of the National Fraternal Order of Police buy the actual camera its self and getting those cameras in the hands of the officers really is not that expensive all things considered. But where the program gets crippling is when the departments have to pay the fee to store all the video they collect (Kindy, 2019).

As touched on above privacy is a real issue that police departments around the country are having to deal with. Thankfully more legislation has been drawn out regarding privacy when it comes to law enforcement body worn cameras. Many different types of cases have been brought to the fore front by protesters of crimes such as domestic violence and rape (Kawamoto, 2018). According to Leadership Conference and Upturn 67 of 75 agencies had a policy in place regarding personal privacy (Kawamoto, 2018). However, of those 67 departments that had a policy in place, only 18 of them were deemed acceptable (Kawamoto, 2018). 

When a policy was introduced in Portland to the city council, which was meet by opposition from the cities citizens. This opposition was due to privacy concerns (Kawamoto, 2018). These same concerns were brought forth in Kodiak Alaska which prompted the department to temporarily suspend the use of body worn cameras (Kawamoto, 2018). According to Tim Putney the Police Chief of Kodiak Police Department their big issue was they did not have proper software to redact footage to be in compliance with public records requests (Kawamoto, 2018). With their needing to be transparency in government the police department does need to be able to release footage to the public when it is requested. But with the department not having the capability of redacting certain footage that can very easily become a privacy issue depending on what the call is.

To help with some of the privacy and transparency issues that departments were facing in terms of using the new technology the Police Executive Research forum offered some good ideas. Some of those ideas were that officers should tell individuals that they are talking with that they are currently being recorded. That is unless it puts the officer or suspect in danger or in some other instance where they officer deems it not practical to inform the other party (Kawamoto, 2018). 

Another idea that they brought up is that officers should be required to obtain consent from the suspect or victim. Now this is kind of an issue. I get the individual not consenting to be recorded just because of the whole privacy issue. But having the camera film is also about officer safety. If the situation goes sideways when you are talking to the suspect or victim, the officer would not have time to flip the camera on. Also, the officer should be required to have it on all the time because that can help disprove false claims against the officer for misconduct.

Just like anything in life there are pros and cons. Body worn cameras are no exception of this. First, we will take a look at the pros of body worn cameras, and then we would look at the negatives. One of the major pros of the cameras is that it can help curb the amount of reports a department gets in regard to officer misconduct. With video recording the department has a log of exactly when on in the interaction and the evidence is virtually undebatable. Before body cameras when claims of misconduct by an officer was brought forth to the command staff of a police department, they would have to interview witnesses and try to decide the facts of what happen. 

With the use of the cameras they can come to a conclusion on the events surrounding the allegations with the video that they officer captured during the incident. According to procon.org when body cameras became implemented in San Diego California the number of officers falsely accused of misconduct dropped approximately 2.4 percent, and the number of officers that were exonerated for less severe allegation in regards to conduct increased by 6.5 percent (“Police Body Cameras: Top 3 Pros and Cons”, 2018). More shockingly in Phoenix Arizona allegations of misconduct found to be true decreased a whopping 53.1 percent once the department started using body cameras (“Police Body Cameras: Top 3 Pros and Cons”, 2018).

With this equipment officers and citizens both may tend to be more professional in their interactions with each other (Kissiah, 2019). Officers may encounter situations that are very fast paced and in turn challenges the officer with the task of making split second decisions that could save a life and also take a life at the same time. When you’re in these types of situations your adrenaline is pumping and you may tend to forget some of the series of events that happened during a call. With the use of the body camera it provides solid video evidence of the decisions the officer made, and is very valuable in piecing the events together in the event of an investigation especially if it is an officer involved shooting (Kissiah, 2019). This will not just help the investigators, but will also help the officer when he is having to write his report. 

Because any police report you need to be very specific on the events that took place, but in a report where their was a death of a suspect you need to make sure all your I’s are doted and your T’s are crossed. Also as slightly touched on above, this type of technology helps ensure that an officer is protected in the event a false claim is made towards to officer in regards to his or her conduct (Kissiah, 2019). This is huge, especially in todays society. Everyone seems to have it out for our law enforcement officer, and yet I still have yet find a logical reason why they are against them and the profession as a whole. It seems to be mainly because the officers are doing their jobs and not letting these individuals get away with committing their crimes. It seems they are mad that they got caught.

Furthermore, another pro for the use of body cameras is that it can help in many different ways in the court system. It can help speed up court proceedings (Kissiah, 2019). This may seem a little odd at first but its true. With video evidence of crime that took place the prosecution and defense attorneys may be more willing to strike a deal with each other, which then in turn gets the case through the court system a lot fast ultimately saving the defendant money.

Body camera footage is not just used to help in the prosecution of a suspect, or in the pursuit to prove or disprove claims of misconduct. The footage can be used as a training tool. Anyone can sit in a training session and listen to the instructor talk about situations and what you should do, or you can sit there and read a book into your blue in the face. Seeing real life examples of situations can really help set the picture for trainees or anyone.

There are so many positives for having body cameras you would think it is hard to think of any negatives. But there definitely are some negatives. For example, the presences of a body camera during a call depending on the type of call could potentially affect the safety of the police officer (“Police Body Cameras: Top 3 Pros and Cons”, 2018). The reason this is, is because some individuals may not take kindly to being video reordered especially those that are drunk, on drugs, or suffer from some sort of mental health problem (“Police Body Cameras: Top 3 Pros and Cons”, 2018). Individuals that may be under the influence of something or may be suffering from a mental illness can be very unpredictable in their actions. They could lash out violently towards the officers. 

There was a study that was published by the European Journal of criminology that found that assaults on law enforcement officers was approximately 14 percent higher if the officer was wearing a body camera at the time of the interaction (“Police Body Cameras: Top 3 Pros and Cons”, 2018). It was also brought forth by a professor from the University of Oklahoma that these cameras can damage the officer psychologically. This may make you wonder. How can wearing a simple camera be psychologically damaging to someone? The answer is simple. With a camera, the officer themselves are basically being watched constantly. There is no body in this world that likes to be watched constantly. It puts you on edge even if you have no intentions of doing wrong. It’s the fact of feeling constantly watched.

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