If we trust cops, we should insist upon body cameras

As I have written before, most of the time I trust cops. That’s why I am very much in favor of requiring cops to wear and use body cameras when interacting with citizens.

The Obama administration wants to spend a lot of money buying 50,000 body cameras for police officers. There is reason to think that when cops wear cameras the cops are better off and so are the rest of us:

In Rialto, California, where police began wearing body cameras back in 2012, citizen complaints against officers fell 88 percent in the first year, and use of force by officers declined 60 percent. That’s an indication that cameras don’t only document the events as they unfold, they actually change the way everyone involved behaves. As Rialto police chief told The New York Times: “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better. And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

And in Washington D.C., where a $1 million, 6-month body camera pilot program is underway, officials expect to see complaints against officers fall by 80 percent. “This gives us that independent, unbiased witness…This will make our officers safer,” police chief Cathy Lanier told The Washington Post. “It will make our department more transparent. It will reduce the amount of time supervisors have to spend investigating allegations.”

Issie Lapowsky, The White House Wants to Spend Millions Putting Body Cameras on Cops, Wired (December 1, 2014).

When Rudy Giuliani and Brown family attorney Benjamin Crump agree that cops should wear and use body cameras, it is hard to argue against the proposition. Indeed, I have seen the utility of in-car cameras in interdiction stops along I-80.

While body cameras pose all sorts of problems, and are not a panacea, if the tragedy in Missouri produces a national consensus that cops should film themselves in action and the feds should step up to the plate with money, that will be a very good thing. Besides, I just can’t wait to see a street dealer captured on tape claiming his right to privacy was violated during a “stop and frisk” as crack falls out of his pants.


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