Body Worn Video Steering Group

Obama Pushes Congress for Body Worn Video

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The White House intends to spend $75 million to help purchase 50,000 body cameras for police officers around the USA. The proposed initiative, called the Body Worn Camera Partnership Program, would provide a 50 percent match to local governments who purchase body cameras over a three year period.

Body worn cameras record video as police officers perform their duties and became the subject of a major policy push in light of recent high-profile events.

In the aftermath of the announcement calls for police agencies to use body worn video as a normal tool have opened discussion on the matter at a political level. Members of Congress, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), voiced their support for such legislation after the shooting. In August, McCaskill suggested requiring police departments to have body cameras before receiving federal funding.

Obama’s proposal would have to be approved by Congress.

As digital cameras have become ubiquitous on smart phones and other devices, citizens have increasingly used them to capture questionable police behaviour by a minority of individuals. Police body cameras, advocates argue, could provide a similar level of accountability — a layer of extra oversight that could put citizens and officers on their best behaviour. Yet body worn video is not intended as a tool to ‘police the police’, but actually assist the effective policing and protection of communities.

Police officers in Rialto, California, started wearing such cameras in February 2012 which formed one of the most respected studies on the use of body worn video. Over the next year, the volume of complaints filed against officers fell by nearly 90 percent compared to the previous year, according to the New York Times. And use of force by officers also fell significantly.

However some groups generally sceptical of increased surveillance have voiced their support. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said it supported the use of body worn video by police.

“Although we generally take a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers,” the group argued in a position paper.

The President also proposes a three-year $263 million investment package that will increase use of body-worn cameras, expand training for law enforcement agencies (LEAs), add more resources for police department reform, and multiply the number of cities where DOJ facilitates community and local LEA engagement. As part of this initiative, a new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program would provide a 50 percent match to States/localities who purchase body worn cameras and requisite storage.

Overall, the proposed $75 million investment over three years could help purchase 50,000 body worn cameras. The initiative as a whole will help the federal government efforts to be a full partner with state and local LEAs in order to build and sustain trust between communities and those who serve and protect these communities.

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