In the wake of the recent Ferguson, Missouri shooting, there is a major civil liberty debate occurring, amid proposals for widespread adoption of police body cameras. In my home state of Wisconsin, and across the country, there is a growing push for the mandatory implementation of body cams in order to safeguard both the police and the public.
Proponents of police body cams claim the use of such devices will ensure accountability on both ends of the lens, while also saving money in the long run. Though the devices would require a considerable amount of funding upfront, the amount saved in unnecessary judicial fees would far exceed initial costs. This certainly had to have been the case historically, when police car dash cams were first introduced.
A recent Cambridge University study also supports that claim. In a yearlong trial of body-worn cameras, Rialto, California saw an 89 percent decline in the number of cases brought against officers. Likewise, the number of times police used force against suspects showed a significant decline.
If Ferguson police had been armed with body cameras, perhaps the facts surrounding the case would speak for themselves, rather than having to rely on the various contradictory witness accounts currently being tossed around. One could even go so far as to say that it may prevent such incidents from ever occurring in the first place, as people tend to be more mindful and conscientious when they know their actions are being documented.
Opponents, however, see all of this as a gross invasion of privacy and civil liberties. Some fear how the video data will be managed and used. Who will have control over how, when, and where the cameras record? Who will have the rights to the recorded data and how long will it be kept for? And what about the privacy of the officers themselves?
There is also the question of power. How much control should an officer have over his or her device? For instance, a common camera, such as those from Taser International, constantly records, but it also deletes footage every 30 seconds, unless the record button is pressed.
These concerns open a whole can of worms into privacy laws that vary by state and are often ambiguous. If these devices are to be mandated, there surely needs to be clear and strict policies for the proper and fair use of the data they record.
The bigger picture remains to be seen. Those who argue that we are sacrificing our privacy with the implementation of an all-seeing eye must contend with the fact that many of these devices are already in place. Security and traffic cameras are in abundance in every major metropolis in the country. Wouldn’t the benefits of police cameras far exceed the possible downfalls then? Or is this yet another example of technology on a slippery slope towards something more sinister?
What do you think? Should police body cams be more widely adopted? Or do the possible privacy issues outweigh the benefits? Comment below or email Melissa.Barnes@advantagemedia.com.