The use of body cameras on police officers has been a hot trend over the past few years. But why are police wearing them in the first place? This is due to the fact that, over the past few years, protesters and activists have accused those in the police force of systemic racism and abuse. Body cameras show actions from a new view, especially for high-profile scenes where force may be involved as a result. The problem is that body cameras have raised concerns for civilians and civil rights groups by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Since 2014, outfitting police officers with body cameras has proven various things – not only does the appearance of these cameras make things a bit more expensive, but it also makes things a bit inadequate. The Federal Government has provided an outstanding $23 million in funding for this new technology and many departments have flocked to buy the devices for their men and women in the force. However, many other departments (the majority, in fact) are seeing them as unnecessary and believe that they violate the rights of others. Many more cities do not have state policies regarding the use and leave it up to officers, such as Philadelphia, Detroit, San Antonio, and Albuquerque.
The ACLU had an adverse response to the use of body cameras; in fact, they sent an 11-page letter in early September to federal officials criticizing the equipment due to the violation of a person’s right to privacy. The ACLU has a strong disposition against video surveillance in public places, but supports the installation of video cameras on police car dashboards, in prisons, and during interrogations. Many, including the ACLU, believe that the cameras have a huge potential to invade privacy and are less likely to promote police accountability. The invasion of privacy largely comes into play with police officers entering people’s homes and encountering bystanders, suspects, and victims in very stressful situations. They ask, are these things that need to be seen by the public eye?
The ACLU looks at the numbers. There would not be mass surveillance of citizens’ ordinary activities rather than just criminal activity. In places like New York City where these body cameras are thought to come in most handy, it would mean that 30,000 cameras would be unleashed throughout the city, which means that an officer would encounter literally thousands of people per hour.
The question is: Do the negative side effects outweigh the positive aspects? Eyewitness accounts will be cancelled out, which means that people can fully rely on what they see on the cameras. There is one huge negative effect, though – if police officers are wearing body cameras, will they be reluctant to engage in helping the public? Will it backfire when it is known that others are watching their every move? Citizens may find a reluctance to report crimes when they become witness, as they will be aware that they are being recorded. Body cameras could either become extremely beneficial to many, or turn into another tool of government surveillance. And with each city making their own rules, you never really know.
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