Body Worn Video Steering Group
After a police officer’s behaviour was determined as out of control and inappropriate after a video captured of him by a member of the public went viral in early June 2015 hundreds of people marched through the city of McKinney, Tex., to protest. Brandon Brooks, who filmed the incident and has clocked up 6.4 million views and counting, said the officer “didn’t even look at me. It was kind of like I was invisible.”
Some police experts said Casebolt may not have noticed he was being recorded. The question that remains is ‘how are police officers prepared for citizen filming?’
Advocates for body cameras agree that they promote transparency and accountability, while critics have noted that video, besides raising privacy issues, can be taken out of context and cause more harm than good.
“In theory, video sends a message of certainty: This is what happened and we can all see it,” journalists Marc Fisher and Peter Hermann wrote for The Washington Post. “Recorded snippets of an encounter between police and the public can reveal the crushing, life-or-death stress that officers face – and the overwhelming power an officer can wield.”
Body-camera advocates have pointed to studies that show improved behavior from police officers and suspects alike when they know they’re being recorded. Both social science and folk wisdom agree that in the presence of a recording device, people “tend to clean up their acts, steal less, act nicer,” Mr. Fisher and Mr. Hermann noted.
“Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve,” Attorney-General Loretta Lynch said in announcing the grants.
The events in McKinney, however, raised a second point: A snippet of video doesn’t always tell the whole story.
Videos that go viral are by definition aberrations; they represent not the usual interactions between police and citizens, but the unexpected, sometimes unacceptable moments.
Yet many police departments do nothing to prepare officers for being recorded. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department said its 18,000 employees receive no training on what to do when residents pull out their smartphones.
In Baltimore, Lt. Victor Geerhart, a shift commander in the city’s southern police district, reminds officers every day that residents have the right to aim a camera at them.
“I tell the officer, ‘You have to stay in control at all times,’” said Geerhart, a 33-year veteran. Yet Geerhart said he is under no illusion that even good policing would make for comforting video. “There’s no way to make violence look pretty,” he said.