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Police Weigh Benefits of Body Cameras Against Public Perception

Police officer wearing a V300 body camera while approaching a pulled over vehicleGiven the recent protests and riots in our country, there is a lot of discussion around the pros and cons of police wearing body cameras. Public perception varies as police weigh up the benefits of using body cameras when on duty. Body cameras worn by the police serve two purposes; one they improve officer safety and communication when working in stressful environments and secondly in the event where a situation gets out of hand and people are injured or lives lost, they help to provide a factual account of what happened.

How Body Cameras Work

Body cameras are tiny portable devices that are either mounted on eyeglasses, hats, helmets or attached to an officer’s uniform in the neck or chest area of officers. Officers are required to wear them throughout their shift with batteries that last for approximately 12.5 hours. They are capable of recording high-quality video and they work in the dark, low light, and interior spaces at night.

Some models need to be activated by the officer themselves and if they forget, cameras equipped with WiFi technology are able to be activated remotely. Cameras can also include "after-the-fact" recording capability where information is captured to a hard drive for later review.

Today’s top of the line body cameras don’t require activation by the officer, they can be automatically activated when a siren goes off or a weapon drawn. Additionally, footage can be live-streamed back to a command center in real-time. It’s estimated that over half of national law enforcement use body cameras and in light of recent events this is growing exponentially.

Should Police Wear Body Cameras?

You could argue that body cameras might influence better behavior in policing. Studies have found that when officers know they are being recorded in the execution of their duties, then they are more likely to perform their duties appropriately. An unfortunate reality of policing today is the lack of trust and confidence the general public has in law enforcement. This was highlighted throughout the nation in the recent protests. Had it not been for body cameras, surveillance cameras, and smartphones, the nation would not have been privy to what really happened. 

In numerous studies commissioned by the Department of Justice, the wearing of body-cameras has proven to be invaluable to law enforcement. The California Police Department alone found a 90% decrease in citizen complaints against officers who wore body cameras according to a study on body-cams conducted by the Rialto.

In a research paper available through the Office of Justice Programs, they found that “Many community stakeholders and criminal justice leaders have suggested placing body-worn cameras (BWCs) on police officers improves the civility of police-citizen encounters and enhances citizen perceptions of police transparency and legitimacy. In response, many police departments have adopted this technology to improve the quality of policing in their communities.”

Privacy Concerns

The problem begins if evidence recorded by body cameras is deliberately erased or stands on shaky legal grounds when the police claim footage is inadmissible in court. In addition, both the police and private citizens have legitimate concerns about privacy if recordings are made public. It makes sense that the courts need to make the ultimate decision about the accessibility of these recordings.

In the real world, the use of body cameras has increased transparency and accountability by law enforcement. This alone has outweighed community concerns in regards to privacy. This is particularly true if the appropriate measures are being taken to preserve the general publics’ privacy by disclosing that a body camera is in use.

Today’s technology and the smartphone means anyone can record live events in real-time without concerns about privacy. 

The Benefits of Wearable Body Cameras

The benefits of law enforcement wearing body cameras outweigh any concerns simply because citizens often change their behavior when advised they are being recorded. This unquestionably helps prevent situations from escalating to levels where the police need to use force. It leads to a faster resolution of complaints against excessive use of force or officer misconduct and helps identify training needs. Examining footage means law enforcement executives can assess officer activities to implement new strategies to ensure the safety of both their officers and the general public.

Body cameras increase the publics’ trust and confidence in law enforcement knowing that body cameras help collaborate the facts in any encounter of concern. The ensuing footage brings a quicker resolution, improves officer safety, and prevents crime. In addition to providing body cameras for law enforcement, LATECH works with both the private and public sector providing, license plate readers plus CCTV and parking access and management. Contact us to discuss your security and surveillance needs with one of our experts.

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