Today's technology lets us see police activity that may have otherwise gone unseen. Recent high-profile incidents, including fatal shootings by law enforcement in South Carolina and Oklahoma, have many clamoring to see more. This has prompted a push for the mandatory use of Body-Worn Cameras (BWCs) by law enforcement officers. The President even proposed funding to increase the use of BWCs nationwide.
Those advocating for the mandatory use of BWCs certainly have a compelling argument. Footage of the fatal Tulsa shooting should, at the very least, trigger an evaluation of current departmental deadly force guidelines and training policies. Though not captured by a BWC, murder charges were filed against the North Charleston (SC) police officer after footage of the fatal shooting surfaced.
For many, these outcomes are more than enough to justify the mandatory use of BWCs by law enforcement officers. However, it's important to understand that there are some concerns too. A 2014 study, Police Officer Body-Worn Cameras: Assessing the Evidence, which was funded by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, identified a number of perceived benefits and concerns of BWCs.
Perceived Benefits of BWCs:
- Increase transparency and citizen perception of police legitimacy.
- Have a civilizing effect, resulting in improved behavior among both police officers and citizens.
- Have evidentiary benefits that expedite resolution of citizen complaints or lawsuits and that improve evidence for arrest and prosecution.
- Provide opportunities for police training.
Perceived Concerns of BWCs
- Create citizen privacy concerns.
- Create concerns for police officer privacy.
- Create concerns for officer health and safety.
- Require investments in terms of training and policy development.
- Require substantial commitment of finances, resources, and logistics.
Since the use of BWCs by law enforcement is a relatively new phenomenon, there is little research on whether these perceived benefits and concerns are rooted in reality. Indeed, the study’s author emphasizes that independent research is urgently needed.
Until then, the debate over BWCs will no doubt continue and we’d like to know what you think.
Should BWCs be mandatory for all law enforcement officers?