Even though the vast majority of police departments say that they plan to implement body cameras, we are far from a long-term answer to improper police behavior.
Accountability. Enforcing the law has everything to do with it, and that doesn’t just mean bringing criminals to justice. In recent years, consistent reports of corrupt police work, particularly where race is concerned, have driven home the importance of accountability for police officers and agents of the law.
One of the best ways to achieve accountability is to review the work these officers do using a body camera. Police across the nation are already using them. However, there are those who oppose the use of this new technology. It’s fine to question proposed solutions to the problem of monitoring police work, but some of the arguments people come up with are absurd.
The Price of Human Life
Perhaps the worst argument against the use of body cameras is that the cost for each officer to wear one is too high. Technology gets cheaper to make every day. Even if we need to accept that the cameras won’t offer the highest definition available, if a single human life is saved because an officer knows they are being monitored, it’s worth the investment.
Police departments in two states just changed their policy, removing the cameras and citing that the cost was too high. That is effectively putting a price on human life, an unacceptable move for law enforcement officials.
The departments in question incur the extra costs because they need to store footage for a longer time in response to a new state mandate. The mandate only applies to agencies that use the cameras, which is about one in three. The chief of police for one camera-using agency insists that it could cost up to $100,000 per year to store the footage.
In a state like Indiana, where both agencies in this example reside, a police department for a city of 250,000 has an annual budget of $80,430,000. The cost of keeping footage around is less than the $105k per year an average officer makes.
Cameras Can’t Stop Crimes
Some people feel that we shouldn’t use cameras because some studies have shown that there is no connection between better behavior and the presence of cameras in the field. It begs the question, why do store clerks keep cameras on in case of burglary? Why have traffic cameras that catch people speeding if it doesn’t slow them down?
Of course, cameras cannot directly intervene if an officer is failing to follow procedure, but the repercussions of the footage they capture can have long-term effects on the way our police officers operate in the field.
Just like when you get a ticket in the mail after blowing past a speed camera, officers who misbehave will be notified when bodycam footage is reviewed. So in a way, having a camera on is, in fact, a deterrent for bad behavior.
Cops Will Be Forced to Be Rigid
Less compelling than the first two arguments, but equally as weak, is the argument that an officer with a body camera won’t be able to give warnings. Since the crime gets recorded on camera, they will be required to issue a citation every time someone jaywalks.
It’s confusing to imagine that somehow police administrators aren’t aware that their officers give warnings. If we lived under that perception, police officers would be much different to interact with, which is the end result this argument suggests. It’s just not true.
We Have a Long Way to Go
Even though the vast majority of police departments say that they plan to implement body cameras, we are far from a long-term answer to improper police behavior. Laws that dictate how footage from the cameras can be accessed currently make it difficult for the public to acquire footage, which could defeat the purpose of the cameras as a means of forcing police to be accountable.
We have started down the path of improving police accountability, and there were bound to be challenges. Now that we know what they are, we can begin the work of overcoming them — not discrediting the solution altogether.