Posted in Police on October 11, 2016
Body cams have revolutionized America’s police forces. In the past, officers had a sense of impunity that contributed to police brutality and unnecessary force. After police departments implemented programs with wearable cameras on uniformed officers, this changed. Instead of a cop’s word against a suspect’s, officials can review body cam footage and see the events as they actually happened. Since the launching of body cam programs, police departments have noticed a positive transformation in how the police and the public interact.
While the technology behind body cams isn’t new, they’ve become more affordable for police forces across the U.S. Today, most large police forces in America use body cams, although smaller forces typically do not. Body cams on police officers work both ways – to alleviate the public’s fear of police brutality and to protect police officers from unfounded accusations. A study of body cam use in the U.S. cited increased transparency and legitimacy, as well as improved officer and citizen behaviors. With a body cam recording events, the public’s trust and confidence in the police can rise.
The rising trend in suspects and bystanders filming police officers via smartphone has led to numerous lawsuits and public outcry against police officers for their actions. As Barak Ariel, a Cambridge University criminologist who led research on the use of body cams, points out, “Everyone is recording the police except themselves.” Body cams level the playing field between the police and the public by recording the officer’s point of view during altercations.
Body cams haven’t only changed police behavior – they’ve also done the same for the public’s actions. The simple fact is that people who know a camera is recording them behave differently than they otherwise might. Body cams put both the police officers and the public on their best behaviors. Modern policing is no longer as simple as it used to be thanks to technology, but many agree this change is a welcome one in the U.S. justice system.
Ariel and a team of researchers in London conducted a study of British and American police officers to discover how body cams have changed the way policing works. What they discovered is powerful and encouraging – there was a whopping 93% decrease in the number of complaints people made against police officers when body cameras were in use. This points to a major difference in how police and the public interact with one another.
When body cameras record an interaction from beginning to end, there is no room for misinterpretation, lies, or cover-ups on either side of the spectrum. If anyone calls the police officer’s actions into question, the California courts can simply review the officer’s body cam footage and learn the truth. Thanks to the widespread implementation of body cams, there have been several cases of police officers facing charges for their inappropriate actions. Body cams set precedence for acceptable police behavior and reactions, as well as for more civil interactions between officers and the public.
At a time when public scrutiny of police departments and the use of deadly force against unarmed citizens have hit all-time highs, body cams may have the power to mollify both sides. Body cams encourage accountability, holding officers responsible for their actions in a way that was previously impossible.
Justice is no longer a matter of one person’s word against another. Now, body cams offer the hard facts of the case as presented in black and white – or color. The introduction of body cameras into today’s police forces is a move that has already begun to repair the relationship between officers and citizens. In the future, every police officer will likely have a body cam.