From Baton Rouge to Charlotte, Cleveland to Ferguson and North Charleston to Tulsa, the high-profile police shootings of minority individuals that we’ve witnessed over the past two-plus years have aroused deep-seeded feelings of mistrust and resentment across the country. In keeping with our long history of racial rancor, this latest chapter in our societal struggle for equality has initially served only to divide us. You’re either with the police or with the people, it seems.
Transparency is a big part of the problem. Speculation takes center stage in most of these unfortunate situations long before real facts are presented, as cell-phone footage and preconceived notions fuel our 24-hour news cycle. Questions of whether the victim had a weapon or law enforcement acted overzealously are therefore left unanswered, allowing all such cases to be painted with very broad brushes in the court of public opinion.
Police body cameras represent one potential solution, at least in terms of the uncertainty that lingers in the wake of alleged brutality. Having police wear body cameras, proponents argue, adds another layer of accountability for both sides of the equation, making officers think twice about overstepping their duties and letting the rest of us know that we can’t try to rewrite the history of our interactions with police. They might even help improve police-community relations, considering that body cameras led to a 93% decline in complaints against officers in a recent study of seven police departments in the U.S. and U.K. by researchers at the University of Cambridge.
But body cameras are far from a panacea. They’re not even very effective, say some detractors, due to malfunctions, privacy concerns and matters of due process that prevent footage from being released quickly when needed. Perhaps that’s why none of New York City’s 35,800 police officers currently is equipped with one.
A couple of things remain clear, however: the issue of police body cameras isn’t as straightforward as some people think, and officer-involved shootings aren’t going to stop anytime soon. So with that in mind, we went in search of answers, posing one straightforward question a panel of leading experts in the fields of criminal justice, public policy and technology: Should police wear body cameras? Below, you can check out their answers – which include 19 Yeses, 1 Maybe and 1 No – as well as share your own thoughts on this extremely important issue.
Police Should Wear Body Cameras
- “Police officers should be required to wear cameras on their bodies. Body-worn cameras provide members of the public, the media, and researchers with vital information about the quality of police-public interactions — especially the relatively small, but critical, minority that involve officer use of force. These videos will not resolve all debates about the propriety of the officer behaviors they portray, but the information they do reveal can advance empirically grounded policing reform.”
Megan Quattlebaum // Program Director, Justice Collaboratory, Yale Law School
- "There is a considerable amount of data that suggests that the use of body-worn cameras is an effective way of improving the behavior and actions of police officers and the public alike. Reductions in response to resistance incidents (i.e. use of force), decreases in civilian complaints, declines in civilian injuries and reductions in injuries to officers themselves are all net positives that have been realized after the implementation of body-worn camera programs. It has been proven that the presence of recording devices has a direct impact on the conduct of those involved in most instances."
Merrell R. Bennekin // Deputy Executive Director, Board of Police Commissioners, Office of Community Complaints in Kansas City
- "In my opinion, body-worn cameras are an important tool for increasing legitimacy in law enforcement as long as strict procedures are established. ... Police departments must have mandatory requirements for video-taping and must hold officers accountable for failing to comply, as many cities are finding that officers turn off bodycams during encounters that may be volatile. Failure to record can also result in community distrust."
Barbara Attard // Co-Author, Police Misconduct Complaint Investigations Manual
- "The imbalance of power between the accused versus the word of the officer is vast and, as we have seen in far too many cases, impenetrable - even when the evidence appears irrefutable. But as Gandhi's words remind us, 'we must make injustice visible.' Body cameras may not be the sole panacea for the overwhelming criminal justice reform needed to legally address and remedy systemic racial inequality in America today, but it is a start, a way forward."
Carol Camp Yeakey // Founding Director, Interdisciplinary Program in Urban Studies, Center on Urban Research & Public Policy, Washington University in St. Louis
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Police Should Not Wear Body Cameras / Jury’s Still Out
- "What we’ve seen play out with body-worn cameras suggests that they present a false sense of both transparency and verity – myths that appear to have taken hold in the public conscience. On the transparency front, body cameras only enhance transparency when the footage is shared with the public. As we have seen in high profile cases across the country, the prompt release of footage of police shootings of citizens is the exception, not the rule. And on the verity front, public demand for the release of footage implies that it will illuminate the actual facts of the event – and we know that’s not the case either."
Nancy G. La Vigne, PhD // Director of the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center
- "This question goes to more than transparency and community trust because body cameras alone will not transform a department into one of high public trust. The foundations of that trust lie in community interaction, participation and understanding. ... Ultimately, making deposits in the emotional and trust bank account with the citizenry should come before or in conjunction with financial expenditures on technology."
Max Geron // Acting Division Commander, Dallas (TX) Police Department
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