If the police have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear about being required to wear video cameras. The Associated Press is reporting that 36 police officers will begin wearing body cameras next week. If they prove effective, then body cameras will be issued to the entire department by the end of 2015. Requiring police to wear video cameras should be universally adopted sooner rather than later.
In my 2013 column, "Watched Cops Are Polite Cops," I reported:
Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent.
People who know that they are on camera (unless it's part of the Real Housewives franchise) tend to act better. The Baltimore Sun is reporting that a city cop has been charged with assault and perjury after his sucker punch attack on a citizen was revealed on a video from a city surveillance camera. See below.
The fact that it took three months for the Baltimore surveillance camera video to surface highlights the need to establish speedy and secure chain-of-custody rules for video taken by body-worn cameras. In my "Watched Cops Are Polite Cops" column, I outlined some rules for the proper handling of cop videos including that officers should notify people that they are being recorded; officers should be subject to stiff disciplinary sanctions if they fail to turn on their cameras each time they interact with the public; failure to record an incident for which a patrolman is accused of misconduct should create a presumption against that officer; and videos should be retained for no more than 30 to 60 days, unless flagged.
In its September series, "Undue Force," the Baltimore Sun reported that the city has paid out $5.7 million in taxpayer funds since January 2011 over lawsuits claiming that police brazenly beat up alleged suspects. The newspaper noted that sum would cover the price of a state-of-the-art rec center or renovations at more than 30 playgrounds. And that the payments didn't count the $5.8 million spent by the city on legal fees to defend these claims brought against police. It seems to me that the city can't afford not to equip its officers with cameras.
To reiterate, requiring police officers to wear video cameras…
…will accomplish an important democratic task as well: turning the tables on the functionaries of the surveillance state. It gives citizens better protection against police misconduct and against violations of their constitutional rights. And it protects good cops against unfair accusations, too.