The purchase of police body cameras has been on the rise since the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Black by officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. The August 9th shooting, which sparked controversy among local residents and people nationwide, is prompting local police agencies across the country to arm their officers with body cameras in hopes of providing clear video evidence of the encounters that take place between police officers and civilians.
Since the increase in police body cameras has been sudden, it has many people wondering about the guidelines for proper recording and storage of videos. While many agencies have taken a thoughtful approach to body camera implementation, others are hastily equipping their officers without giving much though to privacy issues.
“You have police departments that are really taking the time to think through their policy carefully, consulting widely with community groups, civil liberty groups, privacy groups, the public, police unions. And then there are departments that are just slapping them on their officers without thinking about it at all,” said senior analyst Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union, according to USA Today. Stanley said that the ACLU generally supports the idea of police body cameras since they increase transparency, but noted that it is a sensitive topic that will take time to work through.
The debate that surrounds how to implement police body cameras can be seen in southern Florida. In Miami, 18 body cameras are currently being tested among the motorcycle unit, according to Assistant Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes. That number will increase to 50 by the end of the month, however Llanes is questioning whether or not expanding the program throughout the entire department is a good idea.
There are a number of issues to consider when equipping officers with body cameras, including when to record and when not to record, who is allowed to see video footage, and how to store video footage in a safe, reliable way.
Police in Miami-Dade county, however, are ready to roll out the new equipment. The police department there was recently approved for $1 million to purchase body cameras for half of its officers.
Mayor Carlos Gimenez has seen firsthand how lack of recording equipment can spark riots and controversy and stands behind the decision to equip officers with cameras. As a paramedic in the 1980s, Gimenez responded to riots that broke out after four policeman were found not guilty in the shooting of Arthur McDuffie. The riots left 18 dead, and Gimenez believes that police cameras would have prevented the incident, noting that video footage would have provided an unbiased depiction of the events leading up to the shooting.
While police departments still need to work out the logistics of certain aspects of the equipment, there is no doubt that body cameras have benefits for both police officers and citizens.
Studies of police body cameras in Rialto, CA and Orlando, FL have shown significant decreases in both complaints by the public and the use of force by officers when video devices are used.