Table of Contents
The relationships between the police and citizens are friendly only in very few places across the globe. Police brutality is the main source of problems in these relationships. There is evidence of numerous incidents where the police used brutal force against the citizens even when they were unarmed and defenseless. Due to it, nowadays, even when the police mean no harm, citizens always feel suspicious about them. The advent of smartphones with video recording ability has only increased the lack of confidence in the police force. In a high number of occasions, the onlookers have recorded the incidents where the officers seemed to use unreasonable force to hurt and, in extreme circumstances, kill the civilians. It makes one wonder at the extent of human rights breach that cameras seem to have missed. Citizens do not want to trust the words of the police anymore. Consequently, in the United States, the lawmakers and residents call for forcing the police officers use body-worn cameras as they perform their daily activities. They hope that this technology will bring a cultural reform. This essay evaluates the behavioral and privacy issues that the body-worn cameras raise as well as their merits and demerits.
Impact on Behavior
The proponents of body-worn cameras believe that they will have a civilizing impact on the police and citizens. Knowing that they are under observation, both parties will be obliged to demonstrate appropriate behavior. It will help to reduce the number of incidents of violence during the interaction. In situations where the law enforcers use unnecessary force, the records will provide factual evidence of real actions, and the offenders will be punished. On the contrary, it is also probable that body-worn cameras will increase the intensity of force use. There is the possibility that most officers will restrain themselves from applying force in borderline situations to avoid the accusation of acting in bad faith. It seems far-fetched but some officers do not like to put themselves in situations where they face the accusation. Such officers will not observe extra caution when they will know that the cameras can demonstrate that a situation favored the use of force.
In recent years, a high number of police departments have adopted the use of body-worn cameras. Randomized controlled trials study, which sought to investigate the effect on police officers’ behavior when they had and did not have cameras, has revealed mixed results. Ariel, Farrar, and Sutherland (2015) investigated the effect of body-worn cameras use by the European and American police and concluded that there was reduction in the number of residents’ complaints against the police. However, Mayor (2017) provides a different claim in the DC study on the use of body-worn cameras; the scientist states that these devices did not change the level of force that the police used or the number of complaints from civilians significantly. The author of the latter study reviewed many other probable outcomes and still concluded that the body-worn cameras had no strong influence on the above-mentioned indicators.
Another major concern connected with body-worn cameras is the threat of violating the Fourth Amendment. Although the technology has numerous benefits, the ability of the collection of big data volume coupled with facial recognition and other tools capable of interpreting videos in huge quantities implies that cameras may potentially create a means of tracking citizens in various places at any time (Bud, 2016). Every officer who uses this technology is a “moving surveillance camera.” He/she can capture people in ordinary life situations including the unwelcome ones and, thus, interfere with their privacy. The technology also raises the issues of party consent laws. The primary question that recording via body-worn cameras brings is the consent, which one or both parties must provide before filming the interaction. With the camera on all the time, an officer almost loses the possibility of obtaining someone’s consent before recording. Despite the fact that the laws on privacy in different states vary, it is likely that the use of these cameras will result in the breach of right to privacy.
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Another privacy concern is that the body-worn cameras are likely to make it difficult for citizens to approach the police. The reason for it is that the police officers and citizens usually interact in situations where the latter are the most vulnerable, for example, in hospitals or after experiencing domestic violence. In such situations, individuals may be afraid of approaching the police due to the fear of being recorded. It may hamper the administration of justice. Jennings, Fridell, and Lynch (2014), claim that use of these cameras also infringes the privacy of the police officers. An officer may forget to turn off a camera while engaging in personal conversations or being in the bathroom. These personal privacy concerns make the proliferation of the given technology a challenge.
Merits and Demerits of Body-Worn Cameras
The use of body-worn cameras in the police department has numerous advantages, one of which is the provision of evidence in various circumstances. An example is the collection of evidence after an accident or at the crime scenes. With documented evidence, the likelihood of conflict between the reports from victims and witnesses significantly reduces. Thus, it helps to provide evidence of higher quality. Another benefit of body-worn cameras is that they tend to decrease the number of complaints against officers. Officers cannot show unruly behavior because they know that someone is watching them. Another merit of the cameras is that it becomes easy to recognize the behavioral patterns of officers. The monitoring of the conduct of officers and the identification of areas that need improvement through training also become simpler. Lastly, these cameras have the potential to improve the relationship between the public and the police. Citizens are more likely to trust the police officers if they know that someone controls the actions of the latter.
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One of the glaring challenges of the use of the cameras is their cost. The programs are quite expensive to maintain. In addition, it is especially expensive to store and manage videos. The State of DC will spend approximately $3 million additional money to run the program (Austermuhle, 2015). Another challenge of using the body-worn cameras is that it threatens to violate the existing privacy laws. With the cameras that are always on, the officers can easily breach the right to privacy of people. Finally, the cameras in conjunction with the face recognition technology increase the likelihood of racial profiling. With the growth of terrorism, any semblance with a wanted criminal may result in an unwarranted harassment from the side of police.
This paper highlights the main issues that arise from the use of body-worn cameras by the police. Its impact on the behavior of both police and civilians has been outlined. However, the research has been inconclusive about this influence so far. Another crucial issue is the privacy concerns that the technology raises. In certain instances, the likelihood of violating the Fourth Amendment statements is very high although this act may be involuntary. The discussion has also highlighted some of the key merits and demerits of the cameras. Together with the conclusions on the two issues that tend to support the use of body-worn cameras, the merits outweigh the demerits. Considering the importance of evidence in the administration of justice, it is desirable for police departments to adopt its use. Further, the application of given devices is likely to improve the relationship between the police and the public.