In the current age of smart phones and mini cameras that enable almost anyone to record live events in real-time, the use of body cameras on on-duty police officers has come under scrutiny. Their use by police begs the question, “Do body cameras lead to more assaults on police officers?”
The body cameras worn by police officers are very small portable devices that are a little larger than a cigarette. The camera’s wired base is attached to the uniform of the officer and kept hidden away in a pocket. The cameras themselves are easily mountable on helmets, sunglasses, lapels or uniform collars.
With few exceptions, police officers are required to wear body cameras throughout their on-duty hours. The battery’s life per camera is approximately twelve and a half hours. They are capable of shooting very high quality video, even at night, or in darkness. The cameras are not cheap, and can cost upward of $1,200 per unit, notwithstanding the additional costs of data storage and retrieval and camera maintenance.
Problems with Body Cameras
While ubiquitous surveillance via body cameras is intended as a means to increased police accountability with a view toward less corruption, discrimination or violence, the practice is not without problems.
Although body cameras may logically appear to be a good thing for all concerned, since they have the capacity to visually and audibly record exactly what happens during police-suspect interactions, new analysis by police in the United Kingdom and in the United States suggests that police officers are more likely to be assaulted when the cameras are in use.
Simultaneously published studies conducted by the European Journal of Criminology and the Journal of Experimental Criminology suggest a correlation between as much as a 15% increase in assaults on police officers and the use of body cameras.
In a press release by the University of Cambridge, principal investigator, Barak Ariel, suggests that when police officers announce that they intend to turn on their body cameras while in mid-interaction with criminal suspects, it could possibly provoke reactions resulting in an increased use of force which could, in turn, to the officers being assaulted.
The study conducted by RAND Europe and the University of Cambridge tracked the use of body cameras on more than two thousand police officers in 8 different police departments across the United Kingdom and in the United States. The study totaled approximately 2.2 million work hours.
Other Disadvantages of using Body Cameras
In most cases, law enforcement officers are required to physically activate their body cameras when they step out of their patrol cars. Likewise, the cameras are required to be activated manually when officers are recording statements during investigations, or when they are interacting with civilians. However, officers are given the sole options of deciding when the camera is activated, and for how long the recorded data is stored. Officers are also given the choice of when the data should be made accessible to the public. Designating this as a sole responsibility of the officers can increase the chances of related corruption.
Sometimes, technological issues may periodically prevent proper camera functioning. This could be attributed to damaged components, dead batteries, an obstructed lens, or other issues. These technological issues have the potential to result in officers missing crucial behavior by either the officers or citizens, or to miss important witness statements.
Privacy issues are also concerns with the use of police body camera, both for the officers and for suspects and crime victims as well.
Speas Law Firm, P.A.
Minnesota Criminal Defense Attorney, Jennifer Speas represents clients in the greater Twin Cities area. If you have questions about the pros and cons of police-worn body cameras, or would like to set up an appointment for a consultation, please contact us at your earliest convenience.