Last Updated on March 16, 2021 by Filip Poutintsev
Police body cameras are wearable cameras used by the police officer to record interactions between the officer and the public. They are usually worn on the chest part or sometimes on the head/helmet as well.
These cameras are also equipped with a microphone to capture the sound, hence capture the video along with the audio.
Pros and Cons of Police Body Cameras
Many police departments started using body-worn cameras several years ago, in the late 1990s. At that time cameras were heavy and bulky and are not easy to carry around.
They do not have good recording functionality as compared to today’s cameras. Today’s cameras are very much portable, affordable, and can record HD video. They also have night vision and infrared capabilities.
These camera provides constant surveillance and enforcing officers to be more careful with their behavior. These small devices provide a lens to law enforcement to build trust and transparency. Body cameras greatly helps to reduce police abuses as they could be easily accused of it.
Video footage from those cameras greatly helps to provide evidence and is of great use to resolve court cases as well. Police body cameras are not only popular in The USA but are also gaining popularity across various other nations. Australia and Uruguay to the United Kingdom and South Africa are also using them.
Despite their many benefits, some major disadvantages come with police body cameras. Let’s explore those pros and cons
Pros of Police Body Cameras
1. Improves Police Accountability
Police body cameras provide visual and audio evidence that can independently verify events. One small device can create a strong piece of evidence that showcases the interactions between the officer and the public, holding everyone accountable for their actions.
Cameras happen to be a great tool of evidence, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helps protect police against false accusations of abuse.
2. Real-time Information
While the human eye can’t pick every detail but these cameras can help paint a much clearer picture of what happened in an incident.
Video evidence reduces a lot of the uncertainty because the in-charge officer may not provide all of the detail needed to interpret or visualize the data of the case/scenario. The footage hence aids in writing accurate, detailed reports.
3. Improves Officers Behaviors
Normally, people tend to behave better when they know they’re being watched. According to a study, the interactions between the public and law enforcement officials typically become more civilized after the use of police body cameras.
Citizens who know they are being filmed are less likely to act aggressively as well. It surely helps to improve the officer’s behavior in public interactions as the actions of officers is a matter of public record.
4. Major Evidence
Aside from documenting encounters with the public, body camera technology also helps officers record what they see at accident and crime scenes. Footage captured by police body cameras can also be used as evidence in various cases when necessary.
The body-worn cameras have been incredibly useful in accurately preserving evidence and also helps in the court’s proceeding.
5. Training Tool for Law Enforcement Agencies
Nothing is better than real-life footage from your jurisdiction when it comes to on-the-job training. Police officers need time to train and improve just like any other personnel.
By visualizing the process of events that occurred, more learning opportunities can help officers to do better in the future. It helps officers learn from each other and is cost-effective as well.
Cons of Police Body Cameras
1. Pretty Expensive
Equipping police officers with body cameras could be extremely expensive. There are lots of other expenses that come with it, such as software upgrades, hardware upgrades, and maintenance.
Average police body cameras cost somewhere between $400 to $600 each. Storing recorded data is quite costly. Especially smaller departments with smaller budgets have suspended body-worn camera programs because of the rising costs of the cameras, maintenance, and data storage.
2. Privacy Issue
Recording police encounters with the public could lead to the public exposure of private matters. It’s a matter of public privacy. The camera will pick up the activities of everyone in the scene. Sometimes police officers are interacting with the individual at an inappropriate time.
People will be less likely to come forward to share information if they know their conversation is going to be recorded. Some departments allow their officers to turn off their cameras during sensitive moments, which might lead to the loss of some significant information/evidence.
3. Not Always Helps in the Investigation
Some people don’t feel comfortable around cameras and it is a psychological fact that not everyone is comfortable around everything. During an investigation, the understanding that an interview is recording could stop some people from interacting with the officer.
Some people might not express themselves more openly around the camera. For example, a person might get nervous and started mumbling and provides the false information.
4. Safety of Officers
People who may be under the influence of drugs or alcohol may respond differently/harshly to being filmed by a police officer. According to a study, assaults on police officers were increased by 14% when they wore body cameras. There are also possible health and safety issues associated with the use of body cameras electric shock, or burns from faulty devices.
5. Storage is a Problem
Traditionally, the evidence is collected and stored physically in a secure location/shelf with a label/tag. The primary issue with police body cameras is how to store all the data safely.
Video requires further investment in either storage hardware or cloud-based storage systems. And the safety of digital data doesn’t come with little expense. There are some legal concerns about the authenticity of some evidence because the data can be easily altered or misplaced.
Generally, the public is in favor of the idea of using police body cameras as it ensures more accountability to the public as well as to the officers. The use of police body cameras delivers some remarkable benefits for law enforcement agencies however, there are some drawbacks such as privacy and its upfront cost.
Nowadays, most police departments around the world are welcoming the use of a police body camera when engaging with their community.