Lessons on Providing Police With Body Cameras

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Lessons of caution about the rush to provide police officers with body cameras are offered on Slate by University of California Irvine law Prof. Elizabeth Joh. The first is, “Don’t rush to embrace the next surveillance technology if we don’t have a clear idea of how police will actually use it. “Any technology that enables the mass collection, storage, and reuse of information can easily become a tool of police surveillance, even if it begins as one of police transparency,” she says. Another lesson: Don’t adopt the technology first and work out the regulatory and policy details later. A technology by itself doesn’t provide police accountability—the policies behind it do.
Joh warns not to “forget that a surveillance tool used by the police will meet resistance from the police, too. Without acceptance from rank-and-file officers (and their unions), new surveillance technologies will face resistance, criticism, sabotage, and shirking. Don’t let one vendor dominate the market for the new technology, she says. When one company controls the market for a technology sold to police departments, its choices guide and limit police choices. Finally, don’t rely on the federal government to provide guidance on how best to demand accountability and transparency from local police departments. Administrations change, and those changes can usher in radically different attitudes on policing, Joh says, adding that laws that strike the balance between civil liberties and law enforcement needs can come from every level of government.

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