Police Body Cameras–Insurance Policy or Overkill?


The next time you talk to a police officer, you might find yourself staring into a lens. Companies such as Taser and Vievu are making small, durable cameras designed to be worn on police officer’s uniforms. The idea is to capture video from the officer’s point of view, for use as evidence against suspects, as well as to help monitor officers’ behavior toward the public, reports NPR. The concept is catching on. The cameras have been adopted by big city police departments, such as Cincinnati and Oakland, as well as dozens of smaller cities, such as Bainbridge Island, Wa., where the Vievu camera was initially tested by Officer Ben Sias.

“The only thing that really was different about doing business is that I’d tell the person that we’re being recorded,” Sias says. He sees the camera as a kind of insurance policy. “In this job we’re frequently accused of things we haven’t done, or things were kind of embellished, as far as contact,” he says. “And the cameras show a pretty unbiased opinion of what actually did happen.” Sgt. Rich O’Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, doesn’t like the fact that many departments that have adopted wearable cameras have given their officers little discretion: They’re required to record every contact with the public, and can’t stop recording until it’s over — even if a citizen asks them to.

Editor’s Note: TCR’s Jeremy Kohler also offers an in-depth look at ongoing issues of cameras and policing in his recent piece “Cameras, Cops and the First Amendment.”

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