It's time for the dashcam to evolve
A Grand Jury voted on Monday not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Since the decision was announced, cities across the country have erupted in protests and marches. Twitter is currently being dominated by #Ferguson, Darren Wilson, #BlackLivesMatter, Grand Jury, and #MichaelBrown. Brown’s parents issued a statement Monday, expressing that they are “profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions,” and they called on protestors to “join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.”
This is a topic that’s been floated here and there in the months following the August shooting. So many cases of alleged police brutality hinge on eyewitness accounts and the luck of a rolling dashcam. It’s usually a he-said/she-said situation. But could mandatory nationwide policy body cameras change that?
In one recent study, all of the police officers of Rialto, California were outfitted with wearable body cameras and citizen complaints against police officers dropped by a whopping 80%, while excessive force cases dropped by 50%.
Cleveland City Councilman Zack Reed is also calling for body cameras following the shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice by a police officer. Council passed legislation in October authorizing the use of $1.6 million to outfit officers in Cleveland, Ohio with body cameras, but Reed says Mayor Frank Jackson is delaying the process.
One of the most advanced body cams on the market today is the Axon Flex, made by Taser—yup, the stun-gun maker. For the last eight years, Taser’s X26 conducted electrical weapon—the “taser”—has been equipped with a camera, but the Axon Flex is the camera placed directly on the officer’s body. It comes with a 130-degree wide-angle lens, multiple mounting options, and even works in the dark with Retina low-light technology. Downside: the Axon isn’t continuously recording. The officer has to actually turn it on to record, which seems to defeat the purpose when we’re talking about combating police brutality.
There’s also the fact that just because an act of excessive force is caught on camera, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be interpreted as excessive, a la Rodney King.
One of the other hang-ups facing police departments is the issue of privacy. The Seattle Police Department’s body cam trial was nearly tanked by the overwhelming task of trying to alter footage protect citizens’ identities, since the footage is subject to public disclosure requests. In that case, an anonymous Good Samaritan offered to help the police department by showing them how to quickly redact clips and strip audio. The department will also lean on YouTube’s automatic face-blurring technology to protect citizens’ identities.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been championing police body cameras for years as long as 1) they are continuously recording without the officer’s ability to turn them on or off, and 2) they don’t invade the privacy of individuals or become a “vector for mass surveillance.”
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