Are There Downsides to Requiring Police to Wear Cameras?

A Washington, D.C., police officer models one of the city’s new body cameras during a press conference on Sept. 24, 2014.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

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Answer by Rick Bruno, former police commander, Illinois; bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Governors State University:

As a former police officer, I wouldn’t have a problem wearing one. Want to record me all day? I have no problem with it.

But some civilians might not like it. We get called to deal with people on their worst days. We get called into their homes and workplaces. We have to deal with their kids, make traffic stops when people might be with people their spouses didn’t know they were with, go into schools and nursing homes. All that will be recorded too. It might make some of the public a little nervous. 

But from my side of it, it would just add to my credibility I think. Most of us are pretty used to being second guessed. If it’s what the public demands, it should be implemented.

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Answer by Al Saibini, retired federal agent and deputy sheriff:

Depending on where the camera is mounted (chest, head), the camera’s perspective will be different from the officer’s. Cameras have no peripheral vision without the use of a perspective-distorting fisheye lens, so anything not directly in front of the camera is out-of-view.

Probably the most significant drawback is the perception that, if it wasn’t recorded, it didn’t happen that way. The most important thing any officer possesses is his integrity. If an officer can’t testify to events and be believed without video documentation, the whole system begins to decay. We have already seen this with undercover investigations where juries have come to expect audio/video documentation and are not convinced when the equipment fails.

And the equipment will fail, no matter what the manufacturer says. A camera will be defective, a battery will prematurely discharge, a wireless link will encounter radio frequency interference, and always at the most critical moment. (Of course, how else would we know about it?)

When will the camera be activated? You can’t walk around with it on all the time; the data storage requirements quickly become unmanageable, and secure data storage is expensive. You can’t pick and choose which footage to store and discard the rest. Who decides what’s relevant? Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and unscrupulous parties can claim anything was on the discarded footage.

On the whole, I think cameras are a good idea as a supplement to officer testimony, but police executives need to have well-designed policies in place regarding activation, deactivation, data storage, and the length of time data will be retained.

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