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Problems with police body cameras

Body cameras on police are still relatively new phenomena. While they provide the opportunity for obtaining a more objective perspective on some citizen-police interaction, a recent report suggests that as with virtually everything related to the police, the devil is in the details.

The presence of body cameras can be compromised by a number of factors. The police officers must be required to use them and there must by strict controls on their use. When an officer may turn a camera off, when they must be turned on, and most important, who controls the video that has been shot.

Ideally, the video should be uploaded to a cloud server which the police may access, but which they do not control. Some departments permit an officer to view video prior to writing their report. They do not offer this option to suspects, and it is very damaging to the integrity of the process, as it would allow officers to invent stories that match the video.

There are very problematic privacy issues raised by video recording in person's home, as would occur during a domestic violence call. However, these issues are solvable, but a careful conversation must be held and procedures must be put in place.

A significant danger is if police and their unions use individual privacy concerns as a Trojan horse to hide their own misconduct by refusing to release videos or by destroying them. In Nebraska this week, legislation has been introduced that would make police body camera video not subject to public record requests.

This is yet another means of limiting the use and value of these videos. Law enforcement's highest duty is accountability to the citizenry they are sworn to protect, and that can only be achieved by transparency.

Source:, "A new report shows the limits of police body cameras," Radley Balko, February 5, 2016

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