Protect and Serve... and Record
Over the past several years, you may have heard lots of talk about the use of police body cameras.
Especially in the United States, the issue of police brutality feels stronger than it has in a generation, and criticism over the judgement calls of officers responding to a variety of situations has led to riots, tense race relations, and too many hashtags commemorating those who have been killed along the way.
While police undoubtedly carry out one of the most difficult jobs in our society on a day-to-day basis, no one is without fault. To protect the men and women on the front line as well as all the rest of us, body cameras have become increasingly popular as a way to record and review all police interactions.
So, are they working?
Lies and Private Eyes
The Huffington Post once reported that “cameras may not lie, but people do all the time.”
And that’s exactly why cameras are as helpful for citizens as they are for police. Unfortunately for so many killed by police over the past few years, especially in the United States, the only witnesses left to say what did or did not happen are the police.
Even in cases with witnesses or cell phone video recordings are present, the he-said-she-said between citizens and police is often exhausting and ends in paid leave for the officer.
Allowing cops to wear body cameras that record their every move, then, serves as protection for both the police and citizens: Fewer officers can get away with unnecessary force or unwarranted deaths, and fewer people can accuse the police of any abuse of power. It’s a win-win.
As more officers across the world begin to don these body cameras or badge cameras as parts of their uniform, we can only hope to see an improvement in police-citizen relations, whether on behalf of police remaining calm or of citizens not provoking them. After all, with such strong proof present, what’s the point in even trying to change the narrative?
The University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology recently conducted a year-long randomized study of the effectiveness of police body cameras in order to see how it affected their actions, reactions, and general relations.
The study focused on seven sites and on nearly 1.5 million hours of police duty covering a total area of 2 million citizens. Published in the journal of Criminal Justice and Behaviour, the study shows indications of a “profound sea change in modern policing.”
According to the study, the use of police body cameras has been associated with a 93% decrease in citizen complaints.
Researchers say this could be due to the “observer effect,” in which the knowledge that their actions are being recorded leads to better suspect behavior and police more carefully following procedure.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Barak Ariel, said, “Individual officers become more accountable, and modify their behavior accordingly, while the more disingenuous complaints from the public fall by the wayside once footage is likely to reveal them as frivolous.
“The cameras create an equilibrium between the account of the officer and the account of the suspect about the same event—increasing accountability on both sides.”
But does this solve the greater problem?