What You Need to Know About Police Body Cameras

Everybody's talking about body cameras. When will we see them in Seattle?


To what degree the cameras will help with keeping officers and/or citizens more honest, I don't claim to have the faintest idea. However, if citizens don't want to be recorded during normal interactions with peace officers, they should either not be in a compromising situation that prompts them to be there, or they can choose not to continue interaction if they are interacting by choice.

The only gray area is after something like a sexual assault, perhaps maybe the audio can be left on to more accurately record the initial description of events, while the video is turned off, for the victim's privacy? Not entirely sure to go about that one...
@1 Not being a compromising situation that prompts them to be there? like try to not be chased down by plainclothes police who don't identify themselves and slam you into the wall?
It's all about the policies surrounding use. If you can turn off the camera to use the restroom or to take a personal phone call, you can turn it off to beat someone in an alley.

There are *zero* repercussions for police caught engaging in misconduct now. None. Break a woman's eye socket while she's laying in the back seat of your car with her hands bound because you lost your temper, camera rolling the whole time. Doesn't matter. Kill someone on camera while working as a cop, and you'll get some paid vacation time, no matter the circumstances. Choke them to death because they complained about you harassing them over untaxed cigarette sales. Shoot a 12-year-old with a toy gun two seconds after you drive your car into the park 10 feet from the kid and jump out. Execute someone who is on knees. Hands up, shoot.

Total impunity. Never, ever, ever, held accountable. We'll tease at it, finding wrongdoing and pretending to take action, but then there will be a quiet appeal hearing, and it will be reversed.

Yeah, let's just add more surveillance cameras, that will help, right? We'll let the police decide how to use them. They can run the cameras and the storage system. Let them control access to the whole thing. When they record themselves engaging in misconduct, they'll hand the recording right over, when we ask.

Gimme a break.

If we rush this, and maybe even if we don't, it's likely to become a roving surveillance network, trolling for faces like ALPR systems troll for license plates, used for criminal investigations but not for providing oversight of police or for holding them accountable for their actions.
Think our legislators will get it right? Maybe at least the ones who were lawyers before we elected them? Wrong. They will fall all over themselves to avoid crossing the police. One letter from the chief and they will ignore us and do what the police direct them to do.
@3 yeah, isn't the whole problem that even in cases where there is substantial evidence that there might have been police wrongdoing (both the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases) cops still aren't even being brought to trial for their offenses?

In the Eric Garner case, there was a clear video of the event, and that didn't help him out at all, or bring the cop that killed him to trial.

Body cameras aren't the solution, yo.
"An objecting party could simply decline to continue the conversation." Probably good advice for a citizen who doesn't want to be recorded, but what does that do to crime investigations if that person is a witness?

Body cams could easily morph into one of those "be careful what you wish for" situations.

And remember the enormous difficulties imposed by current disclosure requirements that all this video -- quickly mounting into the millions of hours -- is subject to public disclosure, upon request, even requests for a complete dump of everything. Probably time to revisit the public disclosure laws.
@6 - Agree. The disclosure process will most definitely need to be revised before we create an environment where people are reluctant to report crimes for fear of retaliation or public exposure.

Phil, you're right to say that the problem is accountability, not visibility. Cameras are just machines, they can't manufacture justice.

But more cameras, and more visibility, will absolutely create more pressure to change the justice system, more urgency to write new laws that make police officers more accountable for their behavior.

In many of the examples you cite, video footage of the incidents of police brutality contributed substantially to the public outrage that followed. Part of the reason that the public is more upset now about blue on black violence, when it has been ongoing for generations, is that so much more of it is now being captured on cameras-- law enforcement cameras, business security cameras, and private citizens' ubiquitous phone cameras.
@8 Said it better than I could.

I was reading an article the other day on white vs. black reactions to the Ferguson and Garner stories and the biggest take away was how much the video evidence swayed white opinions on the officer's conduct.

There are a lot of white folks who have never had a bad interaction with the police and they are very skeptical of these situations, assuming the bad (black) guy was aggressive or forced the cops' hand. Sometimes that is true but many times it is not and the more of these incidents that we can record the easier it will be to get everyone on board to enact real change.