Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Body cams? Not good enough

It sounds like an intriguing idea – officers with the Chicago Police Department will start early next year wearing miniature cameras clipped to the front of their uniform shirts to allegedly provide greater awareness of what police officers do on the job.

Audio and video recorded by the cameras is meant to show the interactions that police officers have with the public. It is meant to reduce the feeling that police aren’t accountable for their behavior on the job.

AND YES, ANY activity captured on camera can, and will, be admissible in a court of law. In theory, it could provide indisputable evidence of what exactly a suspect did wrong to warrant police attention.

Groups such as the ACLU and the NAACP are among the supporters of such cameras, and I don’t hate the idea in theory. It’s just that I’m skeptical of the way these cameras will work.

Because they’re going to try to give us the police view of an incident, when I think we’d be better off getting the outside view.

Give me a camera shot that shows a police officer in action, instead of the officer’s view. I can envision instances where we’d be better off seeing what the officer did to provoke an outburst, rather than seeing an outburst in and of itself.

IF WE’RE GOING to use technology to try to make police more accountable, then let’s do it properly. Let’s train the cameras on the cops. Which is something that any legitimately-behaving police officer ought to welcome.

If they’re really doing nothing wrong, then they shouldn’t fear having a camera trained on them for the bulk of their eight-hour shift (no, I don’t want to see an officer in the process of taking a bathroom break during his shift).

If anything, we’d probably see the tedium of being a law enforcement officer, dealing with the hours of boredom intertwined with the seconds of sheer terror in which someone can get killed if anybody screws up!

Considering that the police are all too eager to have the ability to watch any of us in detail at a moment’s notice, we ought to support the idea of turning the tables. Not just because it’s totally proper to expect police officers to live up to a higher standard than the general public.

PERHAPS IF WE had such video out of Ferguson, Mo., we’d be more willing to accept the officer in question and his account that Michael Brown tried to hit him, thereby causing him to reach for his weapon and fire the shots that killed the 18-year-old.

Without it, there will always be those who are unwilling to accept the account (just as there are those who will always want to believe that certain people “get what they deserve” from police).

It will be interesting to see how this idea gets tested in Chicago. Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said Monday that local officers would begin wearing the recording devices in about 60 days, according to the Chicago Tribune.

But if we start getting too many incidents of officers whose portable cameras “just happen to malfunction” at key moments while on duty, it is going to create a level of distrust amongst the public.

THIS COULD BE a way of bolstering the level of trust we ought to place in our police department. We have a right to know more about what they do; they are city employees who work for a significant share of our local tax dollars.

But if this comes across as focusing too much on giving police another way to watch the public, it’s going to come across as a massive waste of those municipal funds.


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