Police Shift To Wearing Body Cameras Called “Sudden And Seismic”


More police agencies, especially after the unrest following an unarmed teenager's shooting in Ferguson, Mo., are recording events with small body-mounted cameras, says the New York Times. In the last few weeks, law enforcement agencies in at least a dozen cities, including Ferguson; Flagstaff, Az.; Minneapolis; Norfolk, Va.; and Washington, D.C., have said they are equipping officers with video cameras. Miami Beach approved the purchase of $3 million worth of cameras for police, parking enforcement workers, and building and fire inspectors. The experience of the police in the college town of Pullman, Wa., provides a glimpse of how the technology is used. Officer Shane Emerson responded to a report of inebriated students. Friends of the youths rushed up as he began questioning, brandishing their cellphones and telling him that they were recording the encounter. “Cool,” Emerson said. “I am, too.”

The shift has been sudden and seismic, primarily because various interests have lined up in support of the idea. Liability-conscious city attorneys say the cameras could help in lawsuits; rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say police accountability will be bolstered by another layer of documentation; and the U.S. Justice Department says the technology had the potential to “promote the perceived legitimacy and sense of procedural justice” in interactions between the public and law enforcement. The spread of police body cameras is raising concerns about what is recorded, when and how video might be released to the public, and how the millions of hours of video will be archived and protected from leaks and hackers. Some police unions worry that videos could become tools of management, used by higher-ups to punish an officer they do not like.

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