Body-worn cameras are reshaping perceptions of policing. The small devices, typically mounted on officers’ shirts, provide a lens into law enforcement that is meant to build transparency and trust. But their increased use has also raised a host of questions and concerns: Who should have access to recordings? How will the footage be used? What are the privacy rights of people caught on video? And what are the long-term costs to taxpayers?
Across the country, police departments large and small are rolling out expensive body-camera programs without consistent answers to the questions or, according to policy experts, convincing evidence that the cameras ensure the level of accountability that the public demands. Already, at least 19 states have enacted laws restricting public access (But Mildred, we are using them just like you wanted!) to footage, and a dozen more are proposing legislation. There are many challenges and incentives — social, political and economic — surrounding the rapid rise of police body cameras.
Chicago police officers, who were equipped with body-worn cameras, shot and killed an 18-year-old African-American named Paul O’Neal on or about July 28, 2016. In the weeks after the death, Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority released hours of footage from body and dashboard cameras, and the results were disturbing. Videos captured various angles of a car chase, police gunfire and, after the teenager was shot, confusion as officers tried to figure out what had happened.
We Can See Everything, Right?
Absent from that trove of video was footage of the fatal shot — a fact that led to weeks of protests and claims of a police cover-up. Body cameras which are meant to help heal police-community relations, can create distrust when mishandled or abused.
I am a member of the Ombudsman panel. We ask questions of a representative of the LVMPD in a public forum regarding non-criminal shooting. Ostensibly to educate the public and the loved ones of the person that was killed. In the last one I did, in June of 2016, the shooting of Abel Correa, there were two officers with Body cameras. But one was not working. This seems suspicious.
However, it is my understanding that in the discovery provided to the Civil lawyer who is suing Metro there was a much longer, much more damning recording. But I haven’t seen it. The family is suing LVMPD over the shooting, saying it was unjustified.
When Do They Wear Them?
More than half of all medium-to-large police departments in the United States now use or are testing body-worn cameras in a pilot program, according to Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. But are they turned on all the time? Unfortunately, no. The US Department of Justice, (DOJ) believed this issue is so important that it prepared a 92-page document entitled, Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program. Here is the link. Recommendations & Lessons Learned. https://www.justice.gov/iso/opa/resources/472014912134715246869.pdf. Also, here is link for a policy scorecard which rates the police department of several major cities. https://www.bwcscorecard.org/
Police chiefs promising reform have lauded body-worn cameras as a way to curb the use of force and hold officers accountable. And indeed, prosecutions of officers, while rare, have gone up in the past two years.
In 2016, roughly 1,000 people were fatally shot by the police — a slight decrease from 2015, according to media groups tracking the numbers. At the same time, the year saw a significant jump in the number of police shootings captured on video — via smartphones, surveillance cameras, dashboard cameras and especially body cameras.
In cases of police wrongdoing, prosecutors can have a hard time persuading a jury to convict an officer even with clear video evidence. In the Words of Former US Supreme Court Justice, Lewis Brandeis, sunlight is the best disinfectant. But if the camera is not turned on, we won’t be able to see anything.
* * * * *
For more information regarding Nevada laws, or if you feel your rights have been violated, please call Mace Yampolsky & Associates. Call or text us at (702) 385-9777. We are available 24/7 for emergencies. If you need help, CALL NOW before it is too late. We can help!