In recent years, police departments across the country have come under fire for engaging in alleged acts of racial profiling, excessive force and police brutality. Much of the criticism and anger has been spurred by cellphone video footage captured by regular citizens that depicts police officers using excessive force against and even shooting unarmed or cooperative citizens.
It’s unfair to assume that every police department or officer engages in this type of deplorable behavior. However, the high profile deaths of men like Eric Garner, Michael Brown Jr. and Walter Scott has raised concerns and suspicions in many communities and, cast a long shadow over those men and women who pledge to serve and protect.
To help rebuild trust between citizens and members of the police force, some cities have implemented the use of police body cameras. In an effort to promote the use of body cameras by U.S. police departments, the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced a $20 million program aimed to reduce the cost of the cameras which “can cost as much as $600 each.” The use of body cameras, however, raises numerous practical and legal questions and concerns.
Currently, only a handful of police departments in Massachusetts are using body cameras and even these departments are only doing so on a trial basis. In addition to the initial costs associated with purchasing the cameras, those associated with storing the data increases the overall expense of the cameras exponentially.
There are also numerous legal questions related to the storage of the footage and the privacy of citizens. For example how long should the footage be stored? Should all video footage be made available to the public? Massachusetts wiretapping laws are also very strict when it comes to sanctioning the use of any recording device by police officers without a warrant and absent an investigation.
While several key state officials and politicians support the use of police body cameras, given the many and complex issues that must be addressed prior to their implementation, it’s unlikely that the use of body cameras will be sanctioned anytime soon by any police department in the state.
Source: WCVB-TV, “Departments face obstacles in introducing body cameras,” Patrick Johnson, Aug. 15, 2015
Aljazeera American, “Recording justice: Concerns arise about police body cameras,” Jamie Hellman, June 19, 2015