The relationship with law enforcement officers in their line of service and the public has been discussed by numerous practitioners. The need to have a managed link on the same is at the heart of this. The use of compulsory state agency body cameras is an efficient approach to the relationship between the police and the public. Two birds with one stone were struck by the use of body cameras. On the one side, by not using excess power, for example, law enforcement would be more responsible. On the other hand, provided that the video evidence would produce the necessary proof of this, the public will be more responsible. Like any other state, California is vulnerable to numerous security challenges that require police intervention. The California State Government Agency has invested in the use of body worn cameras and the initiative is showing fruits. However, the agency should have a comprehensive understanding on the optimal use of body worn cameras. Most importantly, the body cameras must be sensitive to the needs of the police as well as the public.
Scope of the Problem
When a police man knows that someone somewhere can watch the events, then the officer has no choice but to behave in a better way. This is the theory of deterrence that is used in different situations. On one hand, a police officer may control his or her emotions and have a better composure. On the other hand, the police officer may opt to drop some actions which are perceived to be harmful to the offender (Goetschel 12).
Generally, public opinion on the use of body cameras among the law enforcement agencies is positive. Similarly, the politicians have backed the use of body cameras. Most people feel that the use of body cameras is beneficial. However, the problem comes in the question of recording. The question is when the recording should start as well as when it should end (Muffler 13).
In some cases, the police have viewed the use of force as a sub-culture. It is not easy to identify sources and ways of misconduct. It is not surprising that the relationship between the police and the public is sometimes antagonistic. When dealing with communities that have a higher level of crime or communities of lower income status, the antagonism is higher (Rogers 43). However, with the use of body worn cameras, it is very difficult for such police officers to sustain a sub-culture of the use of force.
In some cases, the police officers have been exposed to the public, having been filmed when they were not aware. In such cases, the police are at the receiving end and do not have an opportunity to put a defense on their action or lack of it thereof. But if the police officer has a pre-arranged filming when going to duty, there is no need for others to do the same who may not provide a fair coverage. The police officer is informed about the legal requirements and therefore acts consciously in response to the same.
Benefits of Body Cameras in Law Enforcement
There are several benefits of using body worn cameras among the law enforcement agencies. To start with, the gadgets can be a source of the much needed evidence when it comes to litigation (Scalise 15). This is because they provide a more realistic evidence about what happened. In addition to that, body cameras can be used to handle high profile cases where witnesses are either not able or not willing to testify. However, this does not in any way negate the fact that a certain video could be fake thereby leading to a false testimony. In fact, any video that is used in court should be accessed to determine its authenticity (Morrow, Charles and Choate 309).
Second, the situation that one knows he or she is being watched leads to better adherence of social norms as well as behaving in the proper conduct. In other words, the officers are conscious about their behavior. In such a case, there is all the likelihood that the officer in question is going to follow the prescribed rules. This works for the benefit of the police officer as well as the perceived offender.
Third, the use of body worn cameras creates a self-awareness effect. The “third eye” which is neutral encourages the officer to cool down on their actions. In other words, it becomes a force of deterrence to possible violations of rights by the police. Unfortunately, the police often find themselves at crossroads. When they police find dealing with a violent situation, a fight in a club for instance, they have to use violence in order to stop such violence (Morrow, Charles and Choate 312). To make an allusion to Shakespeare’s, to be or not to be, that is the question. Similarly, the law enforcement agencies must choose the best course of action in every situation.
Fourth, the use of body cameras has played a critical role in ensuring that there are minimal public complaints directed at the police. In fact, since the advent of the use of body worn cameras, such complaints have reduced drastically. It is important that state agencies improve their relationship worthy the public. A poor working relationship is counterproductive and leads to a lower level of cooperation.
During the time of arrest, the law enforcement officer should read the rights of an individual. This keeps the individual at a disadvantaged position. In connection to this, informing the offender on the Miranda rights plays a critical role in ensuring that such an offender does not say things that might be used against him or her (Rogers et al 19).
There are some cases where the police officer has planted evidence on an individual. This is common when it comes to the drug enforcement law. With the use of the body cameras, such things become the use of the past.
The mechanics of rolling out the body cameras in the line of work can be expensive, time consuming, and tedious. It may be expensive because it requires investment in the right technology and not necessarily the cheapest. Again, the assumption is that such video processes are not going to fail due to such factors as harsh weather conditions.
The video process can be tedious in that the staff have to watch all the videos- and they are not few. It is like analyzing a reality TV show that is involving the law enforcement officers. In particular, public defenders have to take an extra time watching the videos despite the fact that they have huge case workloads that are already draining.
For a long time, the police force has been accused of racial profiling and offering different services depending on the color of individuals (Muffler 19). In fact, the author adds that racist tactics are often used by the police in order to target minorities. Whereas it is true that some law enforcement officers have done the same, some state agencies have been pro-active in ensuring that different racial groups receive the same treatment. The use of body cameras can enable a state agency to justify its case. If the agency has a clean conscious, it will just present its side of the story. In other words, the use of body cameras is a reliable source of empirical data that is subject to verification.
Lastly, and perhaps the most profound, the use of body worn cameras can prevent wrong accusations that is directed to the police. This is going to play a critical role in saving money that would have been used in compensation in such cases. The California state government agency has the responsibility to protect its own law enforcement agency. It should be noted that the relationship between the police and the community is sometimes antagonistic. If the state government agency does not protect its law enforcement officers, then they will be left vulnerable.
Having stated that, California has to respond to the changing political landscape in America. For example, the racial profiling has been recorded in worrying cases. Similarly, California must be willing to address the various security challenges in order to have a sustainable solution concerning the accusations the police face about racial profiling. Whether those accusations are true or not, a body camera is going to help the police proof that they acted accordingly.
Challenges of Using Body Cameras in Law Enforcement
However, much as this may look a noble idea, the use of body cameras has its challenges too. It should be noted that in the police field, the use of body cameras is a relatively new technology (Scalise 54). This means that agencies have to put more effort in order to learn on the most effective ways of understanding and using them. Another significant challenge is the failure of the body camera. In some cases, this can happen when the camera is needed most thus diluting the evidence.
Second, there has been a question of when the video footage should be released. Some police departments only release the video footage only when they are dealing with actions that will attract favor from the public. A case in point is when police departments release videos when they are saving a life but do not do the same on controversial situations such as the use of excessive force.
Nationally, some law enforcement agencies have hesitated from considering the use of body cameras. The rationale behind this is the cost involved in the process. In addition to that, the use of body cameras translates to a bigger workload. Moreover, with their use, it is very easy to scrutinize the police force something which can put it at a compromising situation.
The issue of privacy concerns is fundamental when it comes to the use of body worn cameras. For instance, if there is no incidence of criminal activities, there is no need whatsoever of having the camera on. This is going to ensure that the privacy concerns are adequately addressed. In connection to this, there has been a major concern about the privacy of the people captured in the video.
Lastly, among the police themselves, there has been some resistance on the use of body worn cameras. Their concern is that the use of such devices is going to lead to drastic erosion in the level of trust towards the police (Max and Peha 12). Some police officers feel that they do not need to be monitored in their work and that they can do so out of their own volition.
A better understanding of the use of body cameras in law enforcement is sampling their use in several other states and accesses their impact. The year 2014 saw New Orleans take a bold move to make use of body cameras. All the uniformed officers were required by law to use body cameras in order to make a record of their interaction with the public.
New Orleans involved various professionals in the watching of the videos. These include the lawyers, public defenders, and in deed a few prominent members of the public. In addition to that, New Orleans would make random check on the videos in order to ensure a proper tracking of the uniformed officers. In particular, lieutenants in New Orleans must watch a minimum of 30 videos every month.
Today, New Orleans has finally accepted that the body cameras are the new norms much as they took long to do so. The body cameras have played a critical role in checking out the various improvements that the city has made.
There have been concerns that the presence of body cameras has not always led to convictions after all. The state agency should try its level best to make sure that the use of cameras gets an opportunity as evidence when it comes to the court processes. This is going to ensure that the work of the police is not in vain.
The California law state agency should encourage the police officers to use the cameras, not for other reasons, but for their own good. Much as they may have resistance on this, such cameras will benefit them in the long run.
It is unlikely that the use of force among the police officers will be eradicated. After all, some offenders are aggressive in nature or become violent on impulse. However, the use of body worn cameras is a great step forward and a sustainable solution in law enforcement agencies.
Why should it Be Compulsory
When laws are made, it is not uncommon to find some resistance, teething issues, and the problems of adaptation. To use an example outside the topic, if a community is told that the use of plastic bags will be banned, there is a general feeling of pessimism. The community finds it difficult to face the reality. However, the day the ban is actually implemented, the community has no option but to comply. And to use a casual language, the community accepts that life must go on.
Similarly, the rolling out of a body camera program may seem impossible at the start. But if it is made compulsory, it becomes a law like any other. With time, the stakeholders accept it as part of their life. It takes time to plan, develop, and implement a policy. It also takes time to realize its outcomes.
It should be noted that with the right use of the body cameras, the police are not able to “edit on the fly.” This means that they are not able to choose which scenes to capture and which scenes to ignore (Jay 1). In other words, they cannot put the camera on or off as they deem fit. This is going to ensure a higher level of accountability. In addition to that, it ensures that the rights of the offender are not violated in any way.
When a law is made compulsory, there is uniformity in the level of policy planning and implementation. In addition to that, it ensures that there is a reliable level of consistently. Most importantly, it ensures that there is uniformity in outcomes (Stanley 56). This means that some do not have an advantage over the others.
Gaining Access to the Video
One of the most controversial and contested issues in the use of body cameras is when to gain access to the video. For example, when the policy was launched in New Orleans, the independent police monitor of the city faced one of the worst public relations nightmares in his career- being compelled to release the videos capturing the use of force by his uniformed officers. When the public is watching such a video, there is a general tendency for the public to find fault in the police officer and scrutinize him or her.
The California State Government Agency should use discretion in the release of such videos. The discretion should strike a healthy balance between meeting the needs of the police and the public too. On one hand, the main function of a law enforcement state organ is to protect the public. On the other hand, the uniformed officers are employees of the state organ and should be protected too. More often than not, the public is not going to protect the police. It is therefore prudent that the state agency protect its own.
The Future of Body Cameras in Law Enforcement
The future of body cameras in the law enforcement is going to be all the more optimistic. In fact, it is going to benefit from an increase in the level of technology. One characteristic of technology is that it tends to be better and cheaper over time. Thus, the use of body cameras in the law enforcement stands to gain in investment in technology.
However, the police departments should be keen to recognize that technology infrastructure tend to depreciate over time and can easily be obsolete. This may require a totally new investment in new trends, something that can be expensive and require skilled human resource. In other words, technology can be updated in a few hours. It is therefore the responsibility of the law enforcement authorities to monitor the trends and decide on the best decisions concerning keeping up with technology.
The use of body cameras has been praised and loathed in equal measure. The praise and criticism depends on the group in question. Generally, the politicians and the public are favorable to their use whereas the police show some resistance. That said, there should not be a big dichotomy on their perception. Research has shown that the use of body cameras in law enforcement has more advantages than disadvantages. Overall, the California State Government Agency should be at the forefront in the advocacy and sustained implementation of the body cameras in the law enforcement agencies.
Goetschel, Max, and Jon M. Peha. “Police Perceptions of Body-Worn Cameras.” American Journal of Criminal Justice, 2017, 1-29.
Muffler, Steven J. Racial Profiling: Issues, Data, and Analyses. Nova Science Publishers, 2006.
Rogers, Richard, et al. ““Everyone knows their Miranda Rights”: Implicit Assumptions and Countervailing Evidence.” Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, vol. 16, no. 3, 2010, 300-315.
Scalise, Frank. Police Body Cameras: What Are the Obstacles to Implementing Their Use, and What is Their Impact? Frank Scalise, 2013.
Stanley, Jay. Police body-mounted cameras: With right policies in place, a win for all. ACLU, 2013.
Morrow, Weston G., Charles M. Katz, David E. Choate. Assessing the Impact of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Arresting, Prosecuting, and Convicting Suspects of Intimate Partner Violence. Police Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 3, 2016, pp. 303-332.