The Necessity of Police Body Cameras

Jesse Carey
Jesse Carey

Walking around Old Town this summer, or perhaps when you go for a wander this fall, you will probably see officers of the Fort Collins police department walking around wearing what looks like a very intense pair of glasses. What these glasses do is record citizens’ interaction with the police officers wearing them.

Though your immediate reaction to knowing that you are on camera may be one of distrust or fear, know that these cameras serve as a powerful deterrent for misbehavior and misconduct, and may keep you (and the officer wearing it) safer and more secure, in ways that firearms would never be able to do.

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Police in Northern Colorado have been testing police cameras for about six months and several police departments in Denverhave worn them for three years.

Police chiefs in Denver and Fort Collins have expressed positive things about the cameras, noting that the use of them leads to better transparency in the community.

On a national level, a report on the use of cameras worn by a police department in California found that the use of cameras saw an 88 percent drop in reports against officers. Moreover, that same report found that the use of force by officers dropped 60 percent when the officers were wearing cameras. As in Colorado, the police chief of the California Police Department stressed the mutually beneficial results of the cameras.

Perhaps most importantly, watchdogs for the privacy of American citizens have recommended the use of police cameras. An American Civil Liberties Union report from October of 2013 states that with certain conditions, body cameras serve as a benefit to both parties, and, far from being an invasive overreach on the part of the police, serve instead to foster trust between the public and the police. A quick aside here: any time that a police department and the ACLU can agree on anything, it’s a pretty big deal.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the cameras are the cost. The cameras cost up to $900 apiece. This means that cameras are likely to be an item for smaller police forces, at least in the immediate future.

In the wake of the death of Michael Brown and the subsequent violence that consumed Ferguson, Missouri, many are rightly calling for the police to be equipped with cameras on their person.

Police armed with weapons, lethal or otherwise, should be mandated to also wear a camera, full-stop. Additionally, a police force that must wear cameras is a win for both the citizens that the officers walk among, as well as for the officers themselves.

Citizens will have an easier path to proving officer misconduct, while the number of false claims against the police will also drop.

Police and citizens both benefit, and both sides largely agree on the benefit, and therefore the time has come to more fully implement this technology, especially as police forces across the nation have become increasingly militarized, from Ferguson to Denver.

Collegian Columnist Jesse Carey can be reached at letters@collegian.com.

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