With everything that has been going on lately, public safety is a main concern. In an attempt to increase public safety, several police departments are adopting body-worn cameras. While improvement on basic guidelines is still necessary, body-worn cameras are a major step forward.
Supporters of body-worn camera programs applaud the increased transparency and accountability that these tools provide. Because these cameras can record officer interactions with the public, this helps to bring clarity to day-to-day situations. This footage becomes even more helpful when details are unclear and stories conflict. Aside from this, officers and civilians alike can be held accountable for their actions, thus promoting public safety.
While these are in place with the public in mind, they can also help officers defend their actions when complaints are filed. An interim report by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing from March 2015 found that there were fewer incidents of force and fewer complaints with officers donning body worn cameras than those without.
Criticism of these programs is related to privacy issues, footage review and public viewing policies. Many say that without public access to the footage, officer accountability will remain unchanged. For example, a North Carolina law makes dash cam and body cam footage exempt from public record. Also being argued is the fact that some jurisdictions allow officers to review the footage before they write their reports. This, combined with no public access to footage, creates an upper hand for the officers as they can shape their story based on the available evidence.
While this is an important concern, this is not the case for all departments as rules and regulations vary. Since the outlook for these cameras seems promising, guidelines regarding use and public access must be improved. Making these policies available for the public to review allows for better trust for law enforcement.
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