Police Body Cameras Don’t Ensure Justice, But They Might Decrease Injustice

An interesting article in Slate presents a compelling argument concerning police body cameras:

The theory behind the use of body cameras is that video evidence will provide us with some objective truth about what happens in violent encounters between civilians and police. But that is the wrong way to look at it. As the tapes of King’s beating and Garner’s death make clear, video evidence can be very powerful but still not overcome the vast structural advantages enjoyed by the police in the legal system. The real value in body cameras is not what they show, but rather what they don’t. That’s because the presence of cameras induces an absence of violence.

I will admit, I too had been thinking about police body cameras simply as tools for accumulating more “objective” evidence concerning police brutality incidents. Given the fact that many officers filmed doing horrible things have still been exonerated, I figured body cameras wouldn’t be able to ensure justice for victims of police brutality.

But police body cameras may very well decrease injustice. Meaning that police are less likely to resort to unnecessary violence when they know they are being watched. So police body cameras are a preventative measure. Oddly enough, police unions are against body cameras because body cameras increase reaction time. That’s another way of saying that body cameras cause police to think a little longer before they act. Horror of horrors, right?

Based on a few studies of police departments that have implemented full-time body camera monitoring, I think we can safely say that the vast reduction in police brutality is worth the off-chance that police might react a few seconds later than they currently do:

The central study on the effectiveness of body cameras comes from an experiment in Rialto, California. The results were dramatic: After the wholesale adoption of body cameras, complaints against officers dropped 88 percent and use-of-force reports fell by 60 percent. In a randomly assigned pilot project in Mesa, Arizona, 75 percent fewer use-of-force complaints were filed against officers who wore the cameras than against those who did not.

So until body cameras on the police are a reality, let’s keep cameras on them ourselves. Record your interactions with the police, and record any interactions you see. Here are some tips to help you do that more effectively.