Body cameras on police could improve law enforcement

Potentially it’s a gain that police in many locales are equipped with body cameras, but there are no assurances that the public will benefit given police claims that the recordings are not part of the public record. San Diego police have denied newspapers’ requests for recordings under the California Public Records Act. One study shows that many forces across the country find ways of evading transparency with claims of missing tapes, broken cameras, failures to turn on cameras, etc. (The Atlantic City Lab, August 18, 2014, by Sara Libby)

The quest for accurate information as in the Ferguson shooting incident could be easier with the use of body cameras, but Jennifer Lynch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says that the easy part is putting the cameras in place. The challenge comes in their management. “What happens to the data after the fact? How long is it stored for? What’s done with the data after an investigation has concluded?” she said. It is an expensive proposition to protect the information from hackers and set up a chain of custody. (Marketplace, August 19, 2014, by Queena Kim)

FAC Executive Director Peter Scheer says he is inclined to give police leeway  when they claim the recordings are exempt from disclosure as investigative records lest they stop recording altogether. In any case, the records could be subpoened by a grand jury or by others. Scheer also said that police officers with body cameras are more likely to give truthful accounts of their actions thereby improving law enforcement.

ThinkProgress reporter Lauren C. Williams, August 20, 2014, describes potential abuses of the use of body cameras by police and writes that for them to work for the public good, policies should be adopted to limit the uses of the data collected and oversight agencies established with the ability to investigate allegations of police misconduct.

Paul Cassell of The Volokh Conspiracy, August 21, 2014, writes that in spite of privacy concerns, objections from police officers to the body cameras and their expense, it might be still be worth working out the problems. Police in Rialto, California report that with the use of the cameras, citizen complaints fell by 88% and use of force by officers by 60%.