Candid Camera Cops

Recording law enforcement


On October 1, a group of 165 volunteers from Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department hit the streets wearing body cameras for the first time. The $1 million pilot program will test various configurations of recording devices over the next six months, including cameras mounted on glasses, clipped to the chest, even one perched on the shoulder like a parrot. Officers will be instructed to roll tape at all times, except in "sensitive areas" such as restrooms.

On September 24, when the program was announced at a press conference, Police Chief Cathy Lanier joked that "it's very rare that we're not being videotaped somewhere by somebody anyway. I mean, we're the last people to get cameras, right?" Lanier said she had also instructed officers not to interfere when members of the public choose to make their own recordings.

In an unlikely moment of harmony, even the police union backed the top-down policy change. "People who want to make frivolous complaints, people who want to make false complaints will know that there's evidence to show that those complaints are false," Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Delroy Burton told local news channel WJLA.

In places where body cameras for law enforcement have already been tried, complaints against officers have dropped dramatically-up to 80 percent in D.C. suburbs where the cameras are already the norm. When asked if the existence of a video record encouraged the police or the public to be on good behavior, Lanier answered candidly: "Both."