The idea is a simple one, an inexpensive one and an effective one.
Requiring all law-enforcement officials in the line of duty to wear small cameras is a good idea because it protects them and the people with whom they come into contact.
This is not a science-fiction concept. In the high-tech electronic age, it’s as simple as pie. The mini video cameras cost about $200 each; they fit on uniforms unobtrusively and maintenance is minimal. Someday, hopefully, they’ll be as common as the badges worn by officers.
We all know all too well the cases of people shot by police, most infamously the case in Ferguson, Mo., which some people claim was tantamount to a cold-blooded murder of a young man, while others believe it was an act of self defense by the police officer. These arguments will likely go on for a very long time without any conclusive proof. A camera on that police officer might have been the “proof” that was needed.
Cameras on police cars have already proved to be a valuable aid in determining exactly what went wrong during many traffic stops – of who was in the right, who was in the wrong. However, car cameras are limited in their effectiveness because they can’t record up-close views of law enforcement and citizens interacting, such as during scuffles that can lead to discharge of firearms.
A small city in California named Rialto has been experimenting with officer-worn cameras. Seventy of its officers have been fitted with the cameras, which resemble cigar stubs in shape. Some cities in England have also been trying out such cameras.
In Rialto, after the use of cameras began in February 2012, public complaints against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous year. The incidents of use of force by officers declined by 60 percent. This is not to suggest officers are a bunch of blue-meanies or bullies. It does suggest, however, that when a camera is running, police officers and all the rest of us tend to remember the rules better and to be on our best behavior, erring on the safe side.
Already, there are good examples of videotaped up-close assaults against officers by suspects, something that could not have been proven without the cameras. The unpredictable instability and hostility of people police have to deal with is also recorded, up close and ugly, by such cameras. In that sense, a body camera could prove to be an officer’s best friend.
Yes, there have been proven cases of police brutality and the unnecessary use of force, including shootings and killings. However, the use of force in the overwhelming majority of cases is justified. Officers never know, in a blink of an eye, in a split second, how a hostile suspect may react. And some suspects are not hostile whatsoever at first, but then in a split second they can turn nasty – punching an officer, grabbing for a weapon or other threatening behaviors.
Body cameras for officers should be adopted far and wide. They won’t be able to prove exactly what transpired in every case, but they’ll go a long way in helping determine the facts of what happened in such crises. The police camera is an idea whose time has come.