Ever since Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tony Robinson were killed at the hands of police officers – those who have sworn to protect and serve us – many people have looked towards body cameras in hopes that they will be able to keep police officers from transgressing their boundaries and, if they do transgress, holding the officers accountable.
At the surface, body mounted cameras seem to be a perfect solution to some of this nation’s most irksome criminal justice woes. Body cameras can collect evidence for criminal investigations, record abusive police officer behavior, and even protect police officers from fabricated charges of police brutality. Without a doubt, the potential for police oversight strikes the biggest chord with a society reeling from endless cases of police brutality.
With dramatically increased police oversight, however, comes legitimate concerns over yet another form of government surveillance and its potential to invade personal privacy. For instance, victims of sensitive crimes (such as rape or domestic abuse) and witnesses who fear retaliation for cooperating with law enforcement both have legitimate reasons for concern. In their cases, their right to privacy trumps the need for police oversight in their respective situations. The concerns over privacy do not just apply to civilians – they apply to those behind the camera as well. Officers whose actions and dialogues are constantly being recorded on-duty effectively lose their right to be candid in fear of penalization from their immediate supervisors (i.e. whistleblowing, job frustrations, etc.), which, in essence, hobbles their freedom of speech.
One suggested counter-measure against the previously outlined concerns is to have police officers have at least some discretion over pausing/resuming recording, instead of having the body cameras recording throughout the officer’s shift. Leaving control of recording in the hands of the officer, however, allows the possibility of potential abuse. Officers with bad intentions might opt to stop recording before becoming aggressive with a suspect. Whereas the issue of privacy arises when body cameras are always filming, issues of accountability surface when the officer has discretionary control over the camera.
Clearly, striking the perfect balance between a right to privacy and police accountability lies with finding the balance between officer control autonomy over recording and constant recording. To this end, the necessary balance is to guarantee that officers cannot manipulate their on-duty recording while at the same time giving officers strictly regulated scenarios where they can cease recording to protect privacy. The perfect solution would allow an automated system to determine algorithmically when to cease and resume recording (i.e. start recording when the system detects aggression or violence; stop recording when the officer is no longer interacting with suspects.)
Since today’s technology is quite far from attaining this level of proficiency with artificial intelligence, we must settle with an imperfect solution where the officer is in control of recording. Detailed protocols must be established in regards to when police officers are to be recording, and when they are allowed to stop recording. Rules themselves, however, are not sufficient. Intense disciplinary consequences for officers who fail to record/manipulate the recording feed are needed. Protocols and consequences tailored to each precinct would address various concerns of different establishments.
Rampant police brutality and abuses across the country have forced the American criminal justice system to begin the reformation of itself with the adoption of body cameras in police departments across the country. While the body camera is not the perfect solution it appears to be, its benefits can be maximized while minimizing its pitfalls by an adoption of strictly enforced protocols about its usage. With the adoption of the body camera, the criminal justice system is taking a step in the right direction towards the oversight that is necessary for effective reform to occur.
Editor in Chief: Mary Schiavone
I am a sophomore with a double-major in English and History.
Muzammil is a Junior in the Bioengineering department, with a concentration in Computational and Systems Biology. Muzammil plans to attend law school after graduating college, with the hopes of serving low-income/homeless families and death row inmates.
I'm Olivia Wu, a sophomore from ACE major, Public Policy and Law Concentration. I am also minoring in Political Science. I have a keen interest in environmental law and international law.
I am a Junior majoring in Communication and minoring in French
A current senior majoring in History at UIUC.
My name is Yao Xiao. I am a junior in mathematics and economics. I love reading, music, and math. Italo Calvino and Anton Chekhov are my favorite writers.