In light of recent events in Baltimore and Ferguson, a post about legislation to protect police and the people was in order. In the last couple years, different police districts throughout America have started mandating body camera use for their police officers. Many states have passed legislation implementing plans to require police to wear these cameras. Police officer Brad Brandt fro, Pennsylvania said, “A few incidents of police misbehavior is few and far between, there’s a lot of cops that do their job with integrity everyday, the cameras just add extra security for the officer,” to demonstrate the importance of these cameras. The Lebanon County District Attorney, David Arnold, agrees with Brandt, “When you know you’re on video, you act differently, it’s human nature.” These “few incidents” aforementioned have caused national protest calling for serious action to monitor police action while on duty.
Incidents Inspiring Body Camera Use
In the last year, there have been two detrimental protests in the US, Baltimore and Ferguson, due to mistreatment of black citizens in pursuit by or in custody of the police. On August 9, 2014 the eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot a killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The disputed circumstances of the shooting and the resultant protests and civil unrest received considerable attention in the U.S. and abroad. Ferguson sparked a vigorous debate about law enforcement’s relationship with African Americans and police use of force in Missouri and nationwide.
Following this incident, many other shootings of black men by white police officers gained national attention. In South Carolina, officer Michael Slager, 33, fired at and killed 50-year-old Walter Scott as he fled. A video taken by a bystander shows that Slager shot eight rounds without a verbal warning and continued to shoot as Scott kept running away. In Oklahoma, officer Chansey McMillin fatally shot 21-year-old Terence Walker on January 16. In New York, Eric Garner died after a police officer put him in a chokehold for 15 seconds for being suspected of selling “loosies” single cigarettes. The New York City Medical Examiner’s office concluded that Garner died partly as a result of the chokehold which is responsible for the “I can’t breathe” saying to combat police brutality.
Finally, recently in Baltimore, Maryland Freddie Gray died from a spinal cord injury that he sustained in police custody after his arrest. Gray fled from police and was allegedly apprehended with an illegal switchblade. This NPR article details a timeline of the incident bringing up many different situations where the police may have used excessive force, neglected to follow policy and did not provide Gray with appropriate medical care. Following these few events, many areas in the US have been motivated to equip their officers with cameras to help encourage safe, appropriate behavior by both citizens and officers.
The infographic below details how body cameras could reduce police use of force.
According to a survey conducted by PoliceOne and TASER International, more than 85 percent of the federal, state, and local law enforcement professionals surveyed believe that body-worn cameras reduce false claims of police misconduct, and reduce the likelihood of litigation against the agency. Also when asked about perceived effectiveness of body-worn cameras versus in-car systems, 77 percent of officers said they think the body-worn solution is more effective. Rialto Police Department was one of the first in the nation to equip their officers with cameras in 2010, and collect data. They found that in the first year of implementation, citizen’s compalaints went down 87.5% and use of force went down by 59%. These are proven to work for both the police and citizens, which is why so many states are enacting legislation to pass mandatory body camera use.
Body Camera Legislation
On May 1, 2015, the White House announced a plan to extend the use of police body cameras for “transparency” amid nationwide protests over police mistreatment of suspects. This $20 million pilot program includes $17 million in competitive grants for cameras, $2 million for training and technical assistance, and $1 million for evaluation. Attorney General Loretta Lynch explained in a statement, “This body-worn camera pilot program is a vital part of the Justice Department’s comprehensive efforts to equip law enforcement agencies throughout the country with the tools, support and training they need to tackle the 21st century challenges we face. Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”
Senator Ran Paul introduced the Police Creating Accounting by Making Effective Recording Available (CAMERA) Act of 2015 or HR 1680. This act calls for matching funds to help local police rent or lease body cameras, and mandates a study of their effect two years after the legislation is passed. Paul stated, “Body cameras will benefit the brave men and women who serve in our police force and the people they protect.vThe use of body cameras helps officers collect and preserve evidence to solve crimes, while also decreasing the number of complaints against police. The Police CAMERA Act will help state and local police departments access this new tool, while ensuring that the privacy rights of every civilian are respected.”
South Carolina presented H 3997, or the “Walter Scott Bill”, with the idea is to get body cameras on officers as soon as money is available. But the main questions for all areas attempting to implement body cameras are about funding, data storage and whether videos taken in private places can be released. The Kansas Senate voted 40-0 last month to exempt the recordings from the state’s open records act with HB 2137. Bills in Oregon, HB 2571, and Utah, HB 386, are among those that would preserve a presumption of openness in situations involving police use of force or allegations of misconduct. Arizona’s HB 2511 would take away the public’s ability to review “the most reliable, contemporaneous records” of police conduct. Florida also passed a bill, SB 248, which says body camera recordings could “be used for criminal purposes if they were available upon request,” and exempts places where people have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Washington passed bills, HB 1917 and SB 5752, which encourage effective oversight of law enforcement conduct. Many states want to keep the people safe, but as Nancy G. La Vigne, director of the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center in Washington, D.C. stated, “It’s not a black and white issue. There are multiple shades of gray. There’s an interest in protecting the First Amendment rights of a whole host of people.”
Other states, like Connecticut, are attempting use other legislation besides body camera bills to reduce likelihood of unnecessary police shootings and excessive use of force. Their bill, SB 1109, increases the amount of training police officers receive regarding the use of excessive force, a section that would have mandated that officers wear body cameras was removed. Colorado recently passed “The Good Liberty Bill” or HB 1290, that reinforces citizens rights to record police. Rep. Joe Salazar stated “This is about a citizen’s right to record police interactions as long as they don’t unlawfully record them. Yes, we are talking about our most trusted public servants. But we’re also looking at video (of police) from across the nation and it’s happening quite often, including what happened in South Carolina with a police officer basically murdering a man.” California is attempting to use their body camera bills to improve police accountability. AB 66 only authorizes police officers to review their body camera after making their initial statement and report in an inquiry or investigation. “We are after the truth. We are after accuracy. We are not here to get in a ‘gotcha’ game with officers,” Timothy Yaryan, an attorney advocating on behalf of police stated.
The protests in the last year have been very difficult events to watch unfold in our country. There needs to be some way to keep people accountable. I believe that body cameras are a positive step forward towards keeping citizens and police officers safer and holding people responsible for their actions, on both sides. Let’s strive towards an America with more compassion and fairness from all people, for all people.