The rate at which Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs) are being used by police departments has continued to increase in the recent few years globally. The public, legislators, and heads of police departments have continued to champion for the implementation of the use of body-worn cameras for various reasons. For example, following the incident of police brutality in a Pittsburgh high school, activities intensified their call for the implementation of the police body-worn cameras by all police departments. Family members of the victims of police brutality have also continued to advocate for body-worn cameras for all police officers whenever they are on duty. For example, after being shot by the police, Michael Brown's family vowed to fight for the implementation of body-worn cameras by all police officers because their absence had made it difficult to charge the concerned police with any crime (The Tylt, n.d). The public also called for the implementation of police body-worn cameras when the body cam footage of a nurse being violently arrested emerged (The Tylt, n.d). On the other hand, there are a significant number of stakeholders who hold the view that police officers should not be required to wear body cameras all the time for various reasons. In this paper, I argue that body cameras should be mandatory for all police officers.
The use of body-worn cameras has been found to reduce the use-of-force by police officers. The use of force by the police has attracted a lot of attention from several disciplines. Generally, the police are only to use reasonable force when the situation justifies that legitimate purposes can only be achieved when reasonable power is exercised. There are two distinct situations where the use of force by the police is considered to be undesirable. First, it is undesirable for a police officer to use excessive force, which occurs when the police officer decides to use unreasonable, unjustifiable, and more than necessary force (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2014). Second, it is undesirable for the police officer to resort to the unnecessary use of force. Research shows that when the police officers are made to wear body cameras, the rate of undesirable use of force decreases significantly. In a random study conducted over a period of three years, it was found that the rate undesirable use of force by the police declined from the moment they were required to wear body cameras. The rate declined from 63.4 percent in 2009, to 61.5 percent in 2010, and to 58.3 percent in 2011, with a significant before-after effect (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2014). Being observed by the camera elicits socially acceptable behavior and responses from the police officers.
Secondly, making it mandatory for police officers to wear body cameras reduces the level of complaints against the police. Complaints filed against a police officer by citizens are in most cases used to determine the extent to which the officer the internal rules of conduct and deviations from the prescribed rules could be indicators of non-compliance by the police officer. Having an apparatus that does not only the number of the complaints lodged against police officers, but also reduces the reasons for lodging the complaints is of great importance to the police force (Ariel, 2016). In a study conducted by Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, it was found that the number of complaints lodged against police officers declined within a period of twelve months following the implementation of police body-worn cameras. The total number of complaints filed by citizens against police officers was 24 during the 12 months that preceded the trial, but declined to only three during the trial period (Ariel, Farrar, & Sutherland, 2014). Theoretically, cameras will always deter people from behaving or responding in a way that indicates non-compliance with the rules of conduct. People with intentions of breaking the stipulated rules will refrain from such behaviors because they may not want to risk apprehension and conviction by the evidence captured by the cameras or observed by the operator of the cameras. The same case applies to police officers with intentions of breaking the rules when on duty.
Police body-worn cameras play an important role in facilitating the arrest of suspects. The scenarios in which a police officer can make an arrest include "when the officer observes the crime, when he possesses a probable cause to believe that the arrestee has committed a crime, when he wants to subdue an aggressive individual from hurting himself or others, and when he has a legal arrest warrant to arrest issued by the court" (Ariel, 2016). The officer, therefore, has an obligation to justify the arrest. In the event that the arrest feels that the arrest was unjustified, he can challenge the decision in a court of law. The police have a low burden of proof to justify their arrest. However, it is not easy to successfully challenge the decision to arrest and there are cases where the distribution of arrests across races and ethnicities is uneven. The introduction of police body-worn cameras make the police officers always cautious about arresting the suspect as their decision to arrest can be successfully challenged by using evidence recorded by the worn cameras (Morrow, Katz, & Choate, 2016). The cameras record what the police officer views and hears, which can be evaluated later on to determine when the arrest was justified or unjustified. By being aware that the worn camera is recording the incident, coupled with threats of apprehension for the violation of the rules of arrest, police officers commit themselves to making arrests that are justified only.
Police body-worn cameras impact positively on the work of a prosecutor. The prosecutor has a legal and moral duty to uphold the law and to promote public safety. The implementation of body-worn cameras plays an important role in achieving this mission (Cohen, n.d). Body-worn cameras are a source of accurate and reliable evidence that may be relied upon by the prosecutor when making a ruling in a court of law. Evidence presented by the police officer and the civilian will, in most cases, differ. Recorded evidence becomes important when the prosecutor wants to make a fair ruling that is free from bias.
However, there are those who hold a contrary opinion regarding whether it should be mandatory for police officers to wear body cameras when on duty. First, it is argued that wearing body cameras create concerns for both police officers and citizens. There are many unanswered questions regarding when the police officers should be allowed to either turn on or turn off the cameras, especially in incidences involving domestic violence and rape and the nature of videos that can be made public and those that should not (Pearce, 2014). When required to enter a private home, cameras worn by police officers can make the private life of the victims by exposing their bedrooms and living rooms. This could also expose the private lives of police officers because whatever thing they do or say is being recorded. Secondly, the costs of acquiring and implementing the police body worn cameras are very high. The long-term costs of these programs are very high that they may turn out to be unaffordable for many states. For example, it is estimated that the cost of the body-worn police cameras could cost Cleveland up to $3.3million within a period of five years (Fox News, 2015). In a contract signed by Taser International, Cleveland would spend up to half a million dollars every year on the storage, maintenance and replacement costs immediately the program would be fully implemented. However, these shortcomings are outweighed by the possible advantages that both the police department and the citizens could enjoy following the effective implementation of police body-worn cameras.
In conclusion, body cameras should be mandatory for all police officers because of the wide range of benefits that they present to the police department, citizens and prosecutors. The cameras reduce the use of force by police officers, reduce the rate at which complaints are lodged by the citizens against police officers, and help prosecutors to rely on accurate and reliable evidence when making a ruling a court of law. Even though they raise privacy concerns and require a lot of funds to be implemented, they should be implemented as these shortcomings are being addressed.
Ariel, B. (2016). Police Body Cameras in Large Police Departments. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 106 (4), 729-768.
Ariel, B., Farrar, W. A., & Sutherland, A. (2014). The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Citizens' Complaints Against the Police: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 1 (1), 1-27.
Cohen, K. C. (n.d). The Impact of Body- Worn Cameras on a Prosecutor. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from http://www.ndaa.org/pdf/BWC_Blog_Post_Draft_09%2002%202015_FINAL.pdf
Fox News. (2015, May 7). Cost for Cleveland body camera program could rise to $3.3 million over 5 years, contract shows. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from Fox News: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2015/05/07/cost-for-cleveland-body-camera-program-could-rise-to-33-million-over-5-years.html
Morrow, W. J., Katz, C. M., & Choate, D. E. (2016). Assessing the Impact of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Arresting, Prosecuting, and Convicting Suspects of Intimate Partner Violence. SAGE Journals, 19 (3), 3030-325.
Pearce, M. (2014, September 27). Growing use of police body cameras raises privacy concerns. Retrieved November 30, 2017, from Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-body-cameras-20140927-story.html
The Tylt. (n.d). Should police officers be required to wear body cameras? Retrieved November 30, 2017, from https://thetylt.com/politics/should-police-officers-be-required-to-wear-body-cameras-2
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