Video from body cameras can be a useful tool in exonerating police officers when they are falsely accused of misconduct. The footage of the incident in question can provide an eyewitness account of exactly what happened. For this and many other reasons, use of body cameras is becoming the norm for police departments that can afford to acquire the equipment.
Police departments that are already using body cameras have a number of positive effects to report. First among these is a reduction in the numbers of complaints filed against police officers, and also the number of use-of-force incidents. Both police and citizens tend to curb their behavior and remain calm and levelheaded when body cameras are in use. Officers know they will be held accountable, and civilians on camera are less combative. More control on both sides reduces the risk of escalation and accidents.
According to the International Association of Chiefs of Police, an estimated 96 percent of police officers accused of misconduct are exonerated when body cameras were in use. In situations that come down to two different versions of an incident, video from body cameras can be the best source of evidence. The public often has a chance to view an event from cell phone camera footage that circulates on social media, and video from the police officer’s point of view can serve to balance the narrative.
The cameras also foster the public’s trust in law enforcement, when they see that officers are using technology that promotes transparency. They can be a first step in healing the divide between the police and the communities they are responsible for protecting.
Footage from real encounters captured from body cameras can be an invaluable tool for teaching and training new officers. While traditional training videos are scripted and acted out, real-life videos filmed on the job can help prepare new recruits for situations they may encounter.
In some cases, evidence from body cameras has helped victims of domestic abuse who are often afraid to file complaints against their abusers after an initial 911 call for help. Video recording of the response to the domestic violence call makes it harder to dismiss such cases.
While video can be invaluable in supporting an officer’s testimony in court, it can just as easily provide compelling proof of police misconduct, and can be used to discipline, fire, and even prosecute officers. Privacy is also an issue – the public will want to know how videos will be collected and stored, as well as how they are used and who gets to see them.
Officers may have their own concerns about being “on camera” all day, and what their privacy rights are. Law enforcement should consult experienced counsel when establishing department policy on the use of body worn cameras.