With the advent of increasing technological advancements, police work can no longer afford to be away from the public’s eye since citizens take videos and photographs of police officers on their duties. This has been especially due to the rising cases of police malpractice and brutality. Moreover, people calling for transparency in the institution have suggested that obliging officers to wear cameras on themselves will reduce issues of said malpractice. This paper presents an argument that police officers should be made to wear the cameras while on duties by looking at four major issues surrounding the use of body worn cameras.
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The effectiveness of body worn cameras in the context of the privacy issues they present has been debated widely. Body worn cameras present privacy issues to police officers who wear them, civilians who happen to be in the periphery of the police officer’s camera and to suspects being questioned and apprehended (Bud, 2016). This is because many people feel that having a camera constantly scrutinizing your every move is intrusive and threatening to one’s right to privacy. This is especially so because even if the officer were to ask for permission to record an individual, the fact that the camera is always online beats the purpose as the individual will already have been recorded. Although many people view the privacy issue as a negative concern, recording activity in the open public should not count as violation of privacy (Kampfe, 2015). This is because even with the absence of cameras, there is no rationale for not observing the activity. The situation should therefore not change when cameras are brought to the picture. If the claim of privacy rights violation is to be taken seriously, one might as well claim that physically observing activity in the open public is also a violation. However, it is agreeable that the latter is an absurd proposition.
Another privacy concern that many people have is the fact that most of the footage and photographs taken by police officers wearing cameras are easily accessible since they are kept in public domain (Sandhu, 2016). This claim of inappropriateness may be rebutted by the reasoning that, just journalists are allowed to post their photographic and video coverage to the public domain; police officers should not be treated any different since the information recorded is not privileged information and should thereby be disclosed. In fact, most people claiming that body worn cameras violate privacy rights are simply paranoid of technology. Thereby, it can be concluded that any claim of privacy violation by police body worn cameras is null since the cameras only record what everyone else is seeing.
One of the most celebrated issues supporting the use of body worn cameras in law enforcement is the fact that law enforcement agents have had notoriety for using force in their duty of preserving law and order. Following this, the public has increasingly been losing trust in police officers. There have been numerous cases in the world involving issues of police brutality, unconstitutional searching and seizing and extrajudicial killings. Such atrocious actions would reduce significantly as the officers would not want to implicate themselves by recording these crimes. Thereby, it can be surmised that body worn cameras significantly reduces the issue of impunity among law enforcement agents (Kampfe, 2015).
Moreover there have been cases where police officers have been accused of planting evidence on innocent civilians so as to implicate them with crimes they did not commit (Bud, 2016). In a court case where the jury hears out an alleged criminal’s word against the police officer’s, the verdict is almost always in favor of the police officer. However, with the use of body worn cameras, the objective evidence will serve justice to the party who was in the right. Another scenario that could be positively affected by adoption of body worn cameras among police officers is when police officers are sued for unwarranted use of force on offenders. In such cases, it could be useful to have a recorded account of how the altercation ensued between the officer and the offender. This is because in certain conditions, the use of force by police officers is recommended. Therefore, the camera could produce evidence that could exonerate an accused officer. It is thereby safe to conclude that using body worn cameras not only reduces excessive use of force among officers, but also protects officers from lawsuits where use of force is necessary (Sandhu, 2016).
There have been issues raised regarding budgetary allocation of public money to fund adoption of police body worn cameras. While the cameras have a positive effect of maintaining law enforcement institutions’ reputation, they are costly to install and maintain (Kampfe, 2015). However, since the public maintains that it deserves a police institution that does not bully them with impunity; it should be ready to fund budgets that go to acquire cameras for law enforcement agencies (Bud, 2016).
According to a study by Justice Department conducted in 2013, 39% of police departments who had not adopted the use of body mounted cameras claimed that the cost of the cameras was the main hindrance (Henstock, 2015). The cost of a singular camera is estimated to be 199 USD. However, monthly costs of 55 USD must be met for every camera so as to store footage. If thereby a department wanted a hundred cameras, the startup cost would be 86,000 USD in that year. However, this situation can be mitigated with the budgetary allocation awarded to police departments by president Obama’s administration. The administration provided about $236 million to fund the cameras. The money was not only meant to acquire cameras but also to investigate their effectiveness. Therefore, it can be concluded that the protection of the constitution, police officer’s images and the public trust is worth setting aside tax money to fund the adoption of body-worn cameras.
The current laws favor the adoption of body worn cameras in law enforcement agencies. Currently in the United States, there is a gap in laws governing the use of these cameras at a local and at a national level (Bud, 2016). However, there are local laws that were drafted to enable police officers to use wire taps that can be used to defend use of body-worn cameras. An example is section 63 of California’s penal code that states that officers were not prohibited from recording evidence that they lawfully overheard or recorded. In the case of privacy violations, laws may be drafted to gain consent before recording and to restrict access to footage (Kampfe, 2015). In the light of above evidence, these cameras can be said not to violate any laws. However, more appropriate legislatures are needed as the concept of policing while recording is relatively new.
The public has been in support of the use of body worn cameras on law enforcement agents. This has been due to the fact that it improves police officers transparency and reliability. However, the adoption of the cameras into law enforcement has been met by issues revolving around privacy concerns, legislative concerns, the use of force by police and budgetary provision. The issue of privacy has been nullified since current legislature states that anything that is lawfully observed or overheard can be lawfully recorded. While there may be financial disadvantages to adopting the use of these cameras, the ethical pay-off is worthwhile. Lastly, the fact that the cameras reduce use of force by law enforcement agents solidifies the argument that the cameras should be adopted due to their hereby discussed effectiveness.
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