Nowadays with all this technology, it’s hard to get away with much. In the past year alone, tons of videos have surfaced of white police officers mistreating minorities all over the country. While the encounter might start off as a routine traffic stop or simple violation, many have ended violent and deadly, with the officer getting off free most of the time. Due to all these videos surfacing, many people have took to mistrusting our officials.
To the good police officers out there, these videos are doing nothing but harming their reputation. The executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police had a few words to say:
“Every time I think maybe we’re past this and we can start rebuilding, it seems another incident occurs that inflames public outrage. Police officers literally have millions of contacts with citizens every day, and in the vast majority of those interactions, there is no claim of wrongdoing, but that’s not news.”
In June a national survey happened and 52 percent of people said they had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police, down from 57 percent two years earlier. In 2007, 37 percent of Americans had lots of confidence that their local police would treat everyone equally, but last year that was down to 30 percent.
At the same time, videos are definitely changing the way prosecutors handle cases in which the police are in the wrong. Not only can videos prove to everyone that the officer is lying about a certain situation, but also put more pressure on the case.
Public views of the police have gotten worse, yet researchers claim police violence against citizens has been lower in the past couple years than in generations before. However, no one has any idea how many people have been killed by police officers each year.
The challenge that police officers face with these cameras are: how to pay for them, how much freedom the officers can get in turning cameras on and off, how long to store recordings, when to make them public, and how to safeguard the privacy of people, like victims, who might turn up on video.
Jonathan Simon, the director of the Center for the Study of Law and Society at the University of California said:
“The benefit of being able to hold police accountable in many situations where they are now largely immune is probably worth the cost alone. But even more so when you consider how often the same cameras will provide damning evidence against criminal suspects as well.”
Most police officers and prosecutors generally support the camera use and say that the videos provide useful evidence, and will usually show the officers on their best behavior. Views among officers and the unions representing them are more mixed though, varying what part of the country you are asking.
Francis T. Cullen, a professor in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati made some valid points, going on to say:
“A negative is that police might say, ‘We just won’t put ourselves in bad situations,’ that they say, ‘We are not going to jeopardize our lives because if we make a good-faith mistake, it is going to look like a crime, and we’re going to get prosecuted for murder'”.
Another negative to the body cameras is that the public may have too much faith in video. Yes, that is possible as it can give an incomplete or misleading view of the situation and it can’t put the viewer in the shoes of an officer having to make quick decisions under pressure. Sim Gill, the district attorney of Salt Late City Utah said:
“Body cameras are helpful, but they are not the magic elixir. What a camera sees is not necessarily what the officer sees. It’s not always going to be conclusive.”