Monday, August 1, 2016

Some Thoughts on Body Cameras for Police Officers

Let me start out by saying when I first heard of them, I was against them with all my being. The idea that every interaction with the public (and possibly even the usual banter between police officers on patrol) would be recorded was simply too much Big Brother for me.

I held that thought for a long time. Even as the NYPD was experimenting with it with a handful of cops in a half dozen patrol commands I thought no good could come of it.

I was so wrong.

It wasn't until I was knee deep in watching complaints made against police officers come in realtime did I see the value that I had missed. Overwhelmingly, complaints made against officers wearing body cameras were found to simply not be true. Maybe the complainant misremembered the incident or maybe they figured a complaint against a cop was a great way to get back at the cop that gave them a ticket or arrested them. Doesn't matter. Body cameras show what happened and let you hear what was actually said. It also keeps cops on their best behavior.

Maybe that's why the coalition that comprises Black Lives Matter wants to do away with body cameras (see demand #7 on the linked list). I would think that the truth would be an important thing to capture, but without a video and audio reference, reality isn't nearly as real as we would like to think.

It's true with cops too. We misremember things all the time, which is why we have to constantly update our activity log / memo book so that there is a written record of every job and interaction of note with the public.

When I came on the job and hit my first command, the 42 Precinct in the South Bronx, an old timer looked over my first week of activity in my memo book and told me "Kid, less is more. You write too much. You're gonna get yourself in trouble with all these details. Stop killing paper."

Body cameras make it obvious as to what went on. Good, bad, warts and all. Not just the cops' warts either. The public's too.

Body cameras. Keeping reality real.


  1. From what I've read about the experience of going to body cameras in the UK, the rate of convictions and people pleading guilty significantly increased (because those interactions were now all filmed) and the allegations of abuse by the police dropped - both due to people no longer being able to falsely claim they were assaulted, and because the officers started seriously self-monitoring their own behaviour.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Do these cameras have an OFF switch, or are they really on ALL the time? How do you get privacy to go to the restroom?