Officer Aaron Waddell pulled over a vehicle in Maryland and asked the driver for his license and registration. Waddell told the man of a suspected seat belt violation and added, “Just to let you know, you’re being recorded.” The Baltimore Sun says such warnings could become more common as police equip officers with small video cameras to record public interactions — part of an effort to limit complaints. Even the most mundane traffic stop can devolve into a dispute, and a recording can guard all sides from unfounded allegations. The technology has proved difficult to reconcile with concerns about privacy and consent. Though civil-rights advocates agree that cameras can improve accountability, the American Civil Liberties Union cautions that without proper oversight they could become “yet another system for routine surveillance.”
Some officers question whether the cameras will sour relations with the public. In Laurel, Md., where police began rolling out cameras last year at a cost of $2,000 apiece, some officers initially were reluctant to submit to the near-constant recording. Now, Waddell can’t imagine working without his camera, a pen-size device worn on sunglasses or a headband. “I have anxiety if I don’t have it on,” said the patrolman, who pulled over 1,000 people in 2012. “Just by the amount of contact I have with people I get complaints.” The advent of the cameras is the latest move in a long struggle by police to adapt to technology that has put a recording device in the hands of everyone who carries a cellphone. Officers are under increased scrutiny, because every public action can be captured and posted online in moments.