In general, law enforcement agencies have resisted reforms even when those reforms have been proven to be effective in saving lives, providing better service or improving inefficiencies. Resisted might be too strong of a word. We have been slow to adopt changes even though these changes are for the better.
As an example, only recently has most agencies adopted a mandatory seat belt policy for officers. Even today, some departments do not require their officers to wear a seat belt even though it has been proven that wearing a seat belt saves lives; even though most departments work to educate the public about this life saving device; even though all states have a mandatory seat belt law.
Similarly, body armor is a lifesaver for police officers, yet many departments do not provide this equipment for their officers or have a mandatory wear policy. A recent survey suggested that over 90% of police departments now require officers to wear body armor compared to 59% in 2009, which is a big improvement.
Lately, a lot of conversation across the United States has been about equipping police officers with Body Worn Cameras. Although this conversation and call to action was initiated by members of the community as a result of several high profile use of force incidents, this mantra continues today through state legislators, Congress and the Senate and even the President.
Law enforcement has joined the conversation, and in even some cases, are leading the conversation about the value of body worn cameras. It is hard to disagree with the concept that having a video of a police/citizen encounter can provide an independent record of this interaction, which can be used to resolve disputes about the encounter. However, should the wearing of body worn cameras for front-line officers be mandatory? My answer is yes.
Body worn cameras can establish an agencies willingness to model best practices, build community trust and demonstrate transparency. These traits are critical to operate a successful police department, especially a department which has a positive relationship with their community. Over time, it has become evident that the wearing of body worn cameras should be mandatory for all departments for those members of the department who have contact with the public. Let’s examine four reasons that support this argument.
SHOWS POSITIVE ACTIONS BY OFFICERS
Police officers do an excellent job each and every day. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t know this if you watch the news for more than just a few minutes. The motto of protect and serve lives in most officers and is demonstrated by their actions, yet we constantly see them portrayed as out of control warriors.
Body worn cameras can record officers protecting and serving their community in all the ways that have such a positive impact on people and reflect positively on the department. These videos can then be used by the department to tell the story of the great work being done by their officers.
A Cleveland police officer saved the life of a 2 year old by performing CPR.
Who can forget the rescue of the 18 month of child, Lily, from a submerged car in a river by Spanish Fork, Utah police officers and first responders?
Earlier this year, a Sergeant with the Griffin Police Department saved a child from a burning house before the fire department arrived on the scene.
HOLDS OFFICERS ACCOUNTABLE
When a police officer hears a report of another officer doing something illegal, immoral or unethical it is very disturbing and demoralizing. We recognize that a few bad apples can reflect negatively on our honorable profession. However, we also recognize the need for these bad apples to be identified and removed. If officers are acting inappropriately, the body worn cameras will capture their actions and provide the evidence needed for departments to take the appropriate action and remove them from the department or prosecute them if they have violated the law.
Recently, a Federal Heights police officers body camera caught his assault on a drunken prisoner and his inability to maintain control. The officer was fired and prosecuted as he should have been.
A University of Cincinnati police officer shot an unarmed suspect in the head as he drove away from a traffic stop. The officer claimed he was in danger and was being dragged by the suspect but his body worn camera video footage showed otherwise.
PROVIDES THE REST OF THE STORY
There seems to be a constant barrage of cell phone video on the Internet, television and all over social media showing officers engaged with citizens while performing their duties. In many cases, these videos only capture part of the story as these incidents escalate resulting in a misrepresentation of what actually happened. Body worn camera video can provide that Paul Harvey moment…..the rest of the story.
An Albuquerque police officer was accused of touching a DWI suspect inappropriately. His body worn camera video told the rest of the story…the truth.
In Palestine, Texas, a suspect pulls a gun, turns out to be a BB gun, on police officers and the officers shoot and kill the suspect. The body camera video provides the evidence needed to demonstrate the officers’ actions were appropriate.
Officers with the Lenexa Police Department were arresting a suspect who was resisting arrest. A citizen caught part of the arrest on video but not why the police took the action they took. Dash cam video captured the entire incident as did body camera video, which cleared all officers. The body camera video has not yet been released.
DEMONSTRATES DANGEROUS JOB OF POLICE OFFICER
We know how dangerous the job of a police officer is and how quickly incidents can turn deadly. However, citizens seem to believe police officers have plenty of time to make a decision. Body camera videos can really highlight how quickly incidents can turn deadly for officers and how fast decisions have to be made.
A Hampshire Police Sergeant was viciously attacked by a subject she had just arrested for being drunk and disorderly. The situation appears to be under control when the subject attacks the officer and pounds her head into the pavement.
Earlier this year, a Flagstaff police officer was shot to death in the blink of an eye while investigating a domestic dispute.
An Albuquerque Police officer was shot as he spoke to the driver of a vehicle he had just stopped. Body camera video captured the incident.
As has been demonstrated from these few examples, all agencies can benefit from requiring their officers to wear body worn cameras as they interact with their community. When done correctly, the department will capture the good work officers do each day, expose the officers who step out of line, provide the entire story when the facts are in question and highlight how dangerous the work of a police officer really is today. Body worn cameras should be a required piece of equipment for all police officers.