DC Joins the List of Cities Implementing Body Camera Programs Since Michael Brown’s Death

Some police officers in the District of Columbia will wear body cameras for the next six months as part of a $1 million pilot program, according to the Associated Press. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said that the goal is to have the program span the entire police department in the next three years.

“The bottom line is, we believe that the body-worn cameras will enhance police work in our city, especially at a time when our population is steadily growing,” Gray told The Washington Post.

Body cameras for police officers became a national issue last month after a Missouri police officer fatally shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown, leading to protests in the city of Ferguson and questions about what led to the shooting.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray told The Washington Post that Brown’s shooting did not spark the program—stating that it’s been worked on long before the incident—but this is just one example of similar policies being implemented since Brown’s death.

“Let me make it clear . . . we believe that cameras have a role in helping to prevent and solve crimes, and we had been working on this situation long before this occurred in Ferguson,” he said.

The New York Police Department announced last month that it is planning to implement 60 body cameras as part of a pilot program for five of the city’s high-crime precincts. Around 30 cameras were donated to the Ferguson police department in late August after the shooting. Other cities around the country are either implementing the cameras or beginning conversations about their potential benefits.

A Wall Street Journal story looking at the use of body cameras in Rialto, California showed that, based on a study by the Police Foundation, the use of force by police officers went down 60 percent and complaints from citizens dropped 88 percent.

As the issue of body cameras becomes more prevalent, the biggest argument against their implementation has been the cost. They can cost as much as $1,000 each, according to Vox. Privacy is also a concern, but an ACLU report about the cameras states that these concerns could be avoided by mandating the officers inform citizens that they are being recorded and that the recordings be destroyed after a short amount of time if they aren’t directly related to an ongoing investigation.

Via the report:

Data should be retained no longer than necessary for the purpose for which it was collected. For
the vast majority of police encounters with the public, there is no reason to preserve video
evidence, and those recordings therefore should be deleted relatively quickly.

The privacy and cost concerns of this issue shouldn’t outweigh the good provided by these body cameras. The United States has no hard statistics on how many police shootings there are every year, according to The Washington Post. The Justice Department stopped releasing the information in 2009 because the data was not reliable enough. But this is unacceptable. If the number of police shootings in the US is so high that the federal government can’t even keep track of it, something needs needs to be done. Body cameras and more accountability for police officers is a good start.

October 1, 2014