Body Cameras: Civility Through Accountability

“I’m a cop. I can do terrible things to people, with impunity” (Aloi). This line comes from an HBO show titled “True Detective,” explaining the dangers of power in one crisp sentence. When the representatives a social class or a profession gain a disproportionate amount of influence over others, it is in the nature of some individuals to abuse it. This holds true to modern-day law enforcement. The police are a vital part of a functional society, and nobody denies the importance of protecting citizens from those who may cause them harm. However, when a police officer chooses to abuse their position, the imbalance creates a massive advantage for the officer. Body cameras constitute a viable solution to limit the potential of power abuse from police officers, as the recordings would provide tangible evidence in case of suspicions and complaints.

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The first positive aspect of body cameras is the ability to use them as evidence in the court of law: they record the actions of the police officer and the alleged criminal, witness testimonies, and even an active scene of the crime. Such footage can provide an actual account of what happened during an arrest claimed to be unjustified. Witness testimonies that are recorded with body cameras can be useful should people forget essential details or refuse to cooperate due to outside pressure. Finally, recording a crime scene with body cameras is important in case the evidence gets damaged during an arrest or a raid (Koh, “Point: Body Cameras Increase Police Transparency and Accountability”). The applications of body camera technology are broad. They can help establish the real chain of events, instead of relying on conflicting testimonies, omissions, and embellishments.

The second positive aspect of using body cameras is the psychological one. It is common knowledge that people act more civil when they are aware of being observed. Both the police officers and the people they interact with show more respect to one another and are less likely to engage in violence (Koh, “Body Cameras for Police Officers on Patrol: Overview”). When violence does occur, the knowledge of being recorded can discourage a police officer from causing undue harm to a potential attacker, which, while sometimes justified by shock or a strong emotional reaction, is rarely necessary to disable and apprehend a criminal.

Two common criticisms of body camera technology are the high prices of implementation and privacy concerns. The body camera programs can cost up to 1.3 million dollars per year (Cost and Benefits of Body-Worn Camera Deployments 30), which may appear expensive. However, when one considers the government expenditures on the military (“Military Spending in the United States”), body camera initiatives appear to be a bargain. They are entirely viable, provided funds are redirected from less public-oriented programs. The second criticism, however, is more substantial; privacy is a fundamental right of any individual, a police officer, or otherwise. Some officers raise a valid concern that the constant oversight may lead to them being punished for infractions unrelated to their performance, such as candidly criticizing their superiors (Koh, “Body Cameras for Police Officers on Patrol: Overview”). However, that argument is invalidated by the fact that an officer on active duty is not a private person, but a public servant. Everything he or she does in a tour of duty is subject to public opinion and scrutiny.

With all these objections in mind, the most crucial reason why body cameras are being implemented is to reduce police brutality, the misuse of lethal weapons, and disproportionate victimization of the racial minorities. The recorded cases of such acts prompted severe public outrage (Koh, “Body Cameras for Police Officers on Patrol: Overview”), which constitutes one of the reasons for the adoption of body cameras. A substantial decrease in cases of police brutality has been noted due to the increases in officer accountability. No officer would be in a position to abuse their power, when it suddenly becomes recordable, demonstrable, and, most importantly, punishable by law. It has dissuaded some of them from acting violently towards the people that previously had no means of defending themselves. The “60% decrease in incidents involving force,” cited by Koh (“Point: Body Cameras Increase Police Transparency and Accountability”), is not just a number. It means that real human lives were possibly saved from incompetent, prejudiced, or violent police officers. That is the most persuasive argument in favor of body cameras that far outweighs any possible objections.

The implementation of body cameras by American law enforcement is positive and, in some cases, necessary change. The benefits they provide include more accurate testimonies and evidence in court, an incentive for civil behavior of both parties during an interaction, and, most crucially, the potential to dissuade some police officers from using deadly force on people who do not deserve it. The downsides of the implementation of such technology are considerable but ultimately irrelevant. Is a police officer’s comfort more important than the health, wellbeing, and life of an ordinary citizen?

Works Cited

Aloi, Peg. “WATCH CLOSELY: “True Detective” – Mysteries of Mind and Soul.” The Arts Fuse. 2019, Web.

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“Cost and Benefits of Body-Worn Camera Deployments.” Police Executive Research Forum, 2018, Web.

Koh, Tsin Yen. “Body Cameras for Police Officers on Patrol: Overview.” Points of View: Body Cameras for Police Officers on Patrol. 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost, Web.

Koh, Tsin Yen. “Point: Body Cameras Increase Police Transparency and Accountability”. Points of View: Body Cameras for Police Officers on Patrol, 2017, p. 1. EBSCOhost, Web.

“Military Spending in the United States.” National Priorities Project, Web.

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