Body Worn Video Steering Group
Sun Sentinel Reports: Miami Beach recently began outfitting officers with body worn video cameras. Lauderhill hopes to equip 60 officers next year. Coral Springs and Hallandale Beach are considering a similar move, too.
The trend line is clear, with just a matter of time before body worn video is a part of the standard uniform for police officers, and that’s a good thing. These devices — which are most popularly affixed to an officer’s lapel — protect the public and police alike.
It’s unfortunate that some local law-enforcement leaders, particularly union leaders, are reluctant to add cameras to their uniforms. They seem to think cameras are a means to ‘keep an eye on’ officers, however while video evidence can provide evidence of excessive force, it also can protect officers from false accusations of abuse.
Consider how dashboard cameras have helped people see the challenges police officers face on the streets. Lapel cameras can do the same.
Besides, the goal is not to record an officer’s every move. Protocols can make clear that interactions with victims and possible criminals should trigger the “record” button, but otherwise it is unnecessary to record continuously e.g. during a coffee break.
Concern also has been expressed that untoward video evidence will make its way into the public realm when closed cases become public records. But given that state lawmakers have created more than 1,100 exemptions to the public records law, including autopsy photos, it would be thought they’ll similarly protect the privacy of innocent bystanders.
There’s also some concern that the presence of a camera will keep officers from using discretion in dealing with problem people. For what if a video shows them letting someone go who later commits a crime? Reasonable people do not expect officers to arrest everyone they encounter, the public simply expects officers to use good judgement whether a camera is there or not.
Police concerns are outweighed by the upside of body worn video cameras, which citizens — especially people of colour — believe can improve police accountability and reduce excessive force. Most recently events from Ferguson has raised the question ‘what if Officer Darren Wilson had a body worn video camera?’
More than 68 percent of Florida voters believe police officers should wear body-mounted cameras, according to a recent Sachs Media Group poll. Among African-American voters, the figure jumps to almost 100 percent, followed by 71 percent among Latino and 62 percent of whites. This is as close to public consensus as you can get.
Studies show that police departments using body cams have seen a drop in both complaints against officers as well as incidents of excessive force, Lauderhill Police Chief Andrew Smalling told reporter Susannah Bryan last week. “That shows that both sides are probably on their best behaviour” when the cameras are rolling, he said. “I think it’s good for the cops and the public, for accountability.”
Not all of Smalling’s contemporaries readily agree.
“I am committed to the concept of implementing body-worn cameras for deputies, but much needs to be done before this occurs,” Broward Sheriff Scott Israel recently told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board.
Israel wants funding sources established to pay for data storage and managing public records requests. He also wants policies that ensure body worn video cameras do not compromise public safety or violate people’s privacy rights.
The challenges are surmountable if Israel, Smalling and other local law enforcement commanders put their minds to it. For the sake of the public and police, it makes sense to equip officers with body worn video cameras that capture the truth — whomever it helps.
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