Ask A Cop

Posted June 4, 2015 in ,

Illustration: Sean Hennefer
In all the recent news and media about the way officers are conducting themselves on the job, I wanted to ask an officer’s perspective about police precincts or counties around the nation starting to utilize required body cameras for their shift.

Is the adoption of body cameras (or mandatory body cameras) set in place more for police work and to better monitor officers at work, or to help show the general public who may not know much about police work that officers are working to make changes to some of the areas they have been scrutinized for in the media?

What are other possible reasons for the sudden rise in the adoption of body cameras at a time where the police are being heavily judged for there actions by the general public?

Dear Citizen,

Only in the last couple of years has digital recording and battery technology advanced enough to make body cameras functional. I’m lying if I don’t admit there were a lot of “Hell no, I won’t wear that” sentiments when body cams appeared. And I’m not really sure why. Over 20 years ago, law enforcement put dash cams in police cars to gather evidence related to DUIs and other traffic offenses with no hesitation. Really, a body cam is no different. Also, law enforcement bosses have incorrectly promoted body cams as an “I’m watching you tool” to cops on the beat. Some of them still do.

Today, body cams are not mandatory. The state legislature has mentioned possible laws that could mandate their use, but if they did that, they’d have to pay for them. I don’t see that happening or really being necessary. Departments on their own are equipping officers without laws mandating their use.

The truth about body cameras is that they exist to record evidence of crimes committed. They’re not to police the police or to be a forum for public discussion of the evidentiary content. Most likely, unless you’re on a jury or you’re suing a police officer or department, the normal citizenry won’t have any access to the content. The District Attorney office, who also has access to the material, may have other policies of which I’m not aware. Obviously, with anything in Cop World, there are exceptions. We’ve seen it recently in officer-involved shootings in order to potentially corroborate claims from possible witnesses. Privacy concerns make regular generalized release impossible, however.

I believe that body cameras will force changes, not just in police departments, but in how regular citizens interact with law enforcement. Since the advent of body cameras, procedural complaints about police conduct have declined. Many times now, when those filing a complaint learn that the encounter was recorded, they often retract formal complaints.

In this age of anti-surveillance, I’ve wondered: Why the huge public support to adopt hundreds of thousands of mobile cop-surveillance platforms cross country? I guess the answer is necessity. I believe that now, cops are crazy to hit the beat without one. The conversation about the police force being corrupt or untrustworthy has forced police departments to use body cameras to  demonstrate that most officers are honest and true. The other small percentage of officers will self-record evidence through body cameras resulting in their arrest, conviction, and they should no longer be a cop.


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