body cameras

Body Cameras – Part 1: Pros & Cons

Are body cameras a solution for reducing incidents caused by interactions between police and the communities they serve? At best, in reviewing current and ongoing incidents involving police actions in communities, it’s evident that the environment for law enforcement officers throughout the U.S. is both tumultuous and difficult.

Without consideration for fairness, a handful of incidents have left many citizens skeptical of law enforcement procedures and officers’ conduct during potentially contentious situations. 

A proposed solution to this issue is to equip police officers with body cameras. To some, this sounds like a slam dunk; but others have reservations. To help understand the dispute, we’ll cover some of the pros and cons of using these cameras.

Pros

– Tells more of the story – Police cameras have limited focus and can’t pick up on absolutely everything an officer “sees,” particularly if the officer’s body or head (depending on the placement of the camera) is not turned toward what they are looking at. However, the video obtained from these cameras can help paint a much clearer picture of what happened in an incident. Police reports, especially in complex situations, written completely from the officer’s memory can be hard for juries to interpret or visualize. Video evidence removes a lot of that uncertainty and allows the jury to see what occurred.

Causes people to behave better – People tend to behave better when they know they are being watched. Body cameras are not just a check on over-jealous or aggressive police behavior, citizens who know they are being watched are less likely to act aggressively because the video removes any ability for disputing their behavior. Cameras improve police accountability and protects officers from false accusations of misconduct.

– Reduces officer complaints Some results of utilizing body cameras have shown a reduction in officer complaints and a reduction in “use of force” incidents. Thus, the safety of both the officer and public is increased.

– Serves as a useful training tool – Police cameras can be useful tools for training new officers who can review footage on how incidents have been handled by veteran officers.

Cons

– Expensive to purchase, monitor and manage footage – Police body cameras are too expensive and are unreliable. There are multiple costs to deploying the cameras that agencies must consider, especially when confronting limited budgets. The initial costs of body cameras ranges anywhere from $350 to $1,000 per unit. There is also a cost associated with supervision because there must be someone who reviews and critiques the video footage from each camera. Finally, there is cost associated with storage of the videos from each officer’s video camera in light that it might contain evidentiary material.

Body Cameras Pose Both Challenges & Opportunity

The American public seems to be in favor of law enforcement adopting body cameras. There are certainly valid concerns surrounding when and how this technology will be implemented and funded, but the strong support shown for these cameras seems to indicate more and more agencies will be moving in the direction of utilizing body cameras. Agencies and their governing bodies will have to overcome the challenges presented here, but these cameras also provide an opportunity for police to strengthen the relationships they have with the communities they serve.

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