The Naked Truth/Jamala Rogers
Police Body Cams are No Panacea
One national survey of nearly every large police department indicated that nearly 95 percent of them plan to move forward with body cams or
have already instituted their use. Still, in a knee-jerk response, the Department of Justice plans to give $20 million to police departments to buy
body cameras as part of a three-year $75 million program.
It’s no surprise that nearly 80 percent of police dashboard cameras of Chicago PD and LAPD reported experiencing audio problems, which
police officials blamed on “officer error” and “intentional destruction.” If there’s no audio, police get to make up their own script about an
Videos of any kind have not proven to make such police cases a slam-dunk in the courtroom as communities attempt to hold cops accountable
for citizen killings. The most infamous video was given to us in 1991 — the beat down of Rodney King by Los Angeles cops.
In the last twenty-five years since that shocking video, there have been thousands of police encounters videotaped and once the Internet hit
the scene, uploaded on the World Wide Web. Many of these videos show the actual murder of the citizen by police. Examples of unarmed Black
men like Eric Gardner, Walter Scott, Kajieme Powell, Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott have unfortunately become commonplace in our public
consciousness. Add to that the almost undisputable claim of an officer feeling “threatened” and a visual accounting of the incident as evidence
of criminal action literally evaporates like a Snapchat photo.
The use of police body cams brings with it a truckload of legitimate privacy issues. What situations should be recorded? Which incidents will
be exempt from recordings? How long will footage be stored as well as how and where? Who has access to the footage? What is the process
for complying with open records requests?
We, as citizens, cannot make the demand for cameras without staying around for the necessary fight to implement fair and effective policies
around the use of the cameras and the subsequent recordings. If we don’t, citizens should count on a very expensive program that we pay for,
but only serves to shield police from the very accountability that the public has been demanding.
The recent study on police body cameras concluded what many of us doing police abuse work already knew:
There was no significant difference in police behavior between those cops who wore body cams and those that
did not. The 18-month study was conducted in cooperation with the police department in Washington, D.C. and
included 2,000 officers. It is one of the most rigorous research projects to date on the matter.
The demands for police body cams has been growing as urban communities experience more blatant forms of
police terrorism. The demands are coming from a place of utter frustration and grief. I understand the desperate
need for anything that can aid citizens in holding officers accountable along with the departments that often cover
for them. But the cost of the cams, along with maintenance and storage costs, don’t justify their use, especially
when most Black and Brown communities are calling for investment in police departments and more investments
in people and communities. Between the millions of dollars being spent on studies and cams, I’m starting to think
somebody’s friends are getting the hook-up.