Police take step in right direction of accountability with body cameras

With a plethora of reports flooding the media regarding recent police shootings and incidents of brutality captured on video, it should come as no surprise when everyday citizens want to band together and march on the streets in protest. But with a recent addition of portable cameras to many police uniforms, the question of who was at fault may no longer be disputable.

In a recent L.A. Times article, James S. Muller contends that videotaping police activity has simultaneously become a watchdog for excessive force and a testimony to how frequently officers have falsely reported incidents without having to face the consequences.

Roughly 25 percent of the nation’s police departments are now using cameras attached to officer uniforms to document all activity, according to an OJP Diagnostic Center report, and the preliminary results are already showing benefits for both sides of the argument.

Police in Oakland started wearing the portable video cameras in 2010 and in five years have seen a 72 percent reduction in use-of-force occurrences, according to a recent article. Oakland uses 700 body cameras, the largest inventory in the country.

A 12-month study of the police department in Rialto in the East Bay reported a more than 50 percent reduction in use-of-force incidents and nearly one-tenth of citizen complaints were received in that timeframe. The report concluded that these reductions were associated with officers wearing cameras.

So why is the use of body cameras not mandatory in all police departments nationwide?

Some human interest organizations who agree with the need for increased monitoring of and accountability for unnecessary police brutality have warned of possible issues that could come out of constant recording of officer interactions.

The American Civil Liberties Union recently warned that body cameras have more of a potential to invade privacy when officers enter private residences, often encountering crime victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations.

And then there is the potential issue of how the recorded content will be processed and reviewed. With technology advancing so rapidly and no official policy in place with how to handle all of this footage, there is too much room for misuse, leaving people’s privacy in question.

“We have to be very careful about how we use this footage,” Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association, said in a recent interview. “Society has to decide — do we want all of that on YouTube?”

With countless videos of excessive use of force going viral in recent months, it seems that society is more than tolerant of having such activity go so public in the interest of making more people aware of the misconduct and therefore changing the way accountability is handled.

The Washington Post recently reported on the Department of Justice’s newly proposed pilot program that will increase body camera usage in police departments across the nation.

In the plan, federal officials intend to fund nearly $20 million to several governmental departments, much of which will include small law enforcement agencies. In addition, the report says, “another $1 million will be set aside so that the Bureau of Justice Statistics can figure out how to study the actual impact of these cameras.”

It is reassuring to see that the top officials of the government are finally taking necessary action to utilize the available technology as a means to accurately document the activity of those who have sworn to protect and to serve citizens.

In a time in history when social media has become a primary source of information gathering for so many people, it makes sense that many employers and members of management would seek to monitor the activity of their employees, especially in situations where other individuals are claiming injury.

The question of whether or not some trusted law enforcement officials are abusing their power has long been answered. Now it is time for departments nationwide to implement a system of accountability, providing real documentation of what really happened.

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