Monday, October 03, 2016

Body Cameras Work And All Police Should Wear Them

(The cartoon image above is by David Fitzsimmons in the Arizona Daily Star.)

There is a huge debate going on in this country (and others) about police abuse. One side says police abise (and sometimes even murder) is rampant, and is due to institutional racism in too many police departments. The other side says incidents of abuse are rare and isolated, and caused by a few "bad apples".

One solution that has been offered to settle the debate is having police wear body cameras, but even that is debated -- will wearing body cameras work to solve the problem, or not?

Cambridge University conducted a study to find out if body cameras would work. Their study followed about 2,000 officers over a year (1.4 million working hours). The departments looked at were -- three in England, one in Northern Ireland, and two in California.

What did they find? There was an average 93% decrease in complaints against police when they were wearing cameras -- and in some departments, the decrease was 100%. An interesting part of the study showed that the cameras did not only change the behavior of police, but also the behavior of citizens approached by the police. Both police and citizens acted in a more reasonable manner when on camera.

Wearing body cameras can work to reduce violence. But they can only work when used. Police who turn off the camera must be punished severely. That cannot be tolerated, or the cameras will be useless.

Personally, I don't understand why any police would be opposed to the wearing of body cameras. If they are acting appropriately, then they have nothing to worry about. And they would be advantaged by improved citizen behavior because of the camera (and the illustration of bad citizen behavior when things go wrong).

I don't believe body cameras is the compleat answer to current police problems. We still will need to deal with too much racism in many departments (both with officers and their leadership), but the wearing of body cameras would be a very good first step.


  1. >If they are acting appropriately, then they have nothing to worry about.

    I do support body cameras, but I just want to say something off of this comment.

    ANY invasion of privacy can be justified by that. Reading private mail and e-mail, phone-tapping, getting children to inform on their parents...

    I've read your blog for quite a while, and I doubt that that is what you meant. But it is a possible interpretation. And a possible precedent.

    Surveillance cameras are becoming more and more common. And cell-phone cameras are ubiquitous. But there should be some limits. And, in many cases, they have revealed the truth, allowed justice to be done. Whether that justice was what a police officer stated or the opposite.

    However, I do not want to be watched 24/7. I certainly do not want to be watched by the authorities 24/7.

    Police officers, being human, have the same rights to privacy as the rest of us. Of course, when in public, in an official capacity as a government actor, the officer may have less of an expectation of privacy. And the camera can actually aid the police in court.

    As I said, I support body cameras. But I know the issue can be complex.


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