Body Cameras on Police: The Pros and the Cons
Across the nation and the state of Florida, we are seeing a rise in both the interest and the usage of body cameras on police officers. Many proponents say that widespread usage of body cameras will improve officer accountability and behavior, and cut down on the occurrence of fatal shootings. Nowadays, citizens can capture video from their cell phones and publish the footage to thousands in a matter of minutes. After fatal confrontations, these cell phone videos can provide evidence of the incident while holding the officer accountable for their actions.
Many believe that body cameras will act in the same ways as citizen-recorded video does, providing constant surveillance and pressuring officers to be more careful with their behavior. Citizens videotape officers who are misusing force because they do not think anyone is watching, but body cameras mean that everyone is watching, all the time.
Police officers receive more complains and accusations by citizens than any other kind of public safety worker. These complaints can subject officers to intense scrutiny as well as jeopardize their continued employment. There is a kind of disconnect between law enforcement agencies and their employees, which creates a relationship of distrust.
Some law enforcement agencies in Florida have developed procedures for officer-involved shootings (OIS) that deny the officer the ability to see video footage of an incident before making sworn statements. It is common knowledge that traumatic situations affect one’s ability to recount events and remember clearly, so being able to see the video may be quite helpful prior to an investigation. Proponents of this policy say that allowing an officer to view footage will make them change their story to match the one on video. However, no matter the justification for these OIS procedures, employees perceive them as personally distrusting.
The Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission recently created a committee to study the use of body cameras. This committee consisted of law enforcement professionals, police chiefs, and citizens, with no representative from a labor organization or an active patrol-level officer. Unfortunately, this kind of exclusion is not uncommon. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers published a study providing recommendations for body camera usage. No union representative or active police officers were included in the members of the study.
While agencies form committees to examine the effects of body camera usage, patrol-level officers are left out of the conversation. When body camera footage is involved in an incident, the officer is denied the ability to view it before making a statement.
In the world of law enforcement, honesty and accuracy are not mutually exclusive. Accounts of traumatic events will not always be accurate, although they may be truthful. Allowing officers to view video footage can help them refresh their memory and better understand and respond to questions from investigators.
As it stands right now, body camera policies are undermined by relationships of distrust between police officers and their employers. This distrust needs to be addressed and resolved if these policies are to be effective-- this means adding police officers to the conversation around body cameras.