Police body cams help accountability

by | Apr 10, 2015 | Editorial

Another incident involving a police officer has lead to the unnecessary death of a man in South Carolina, and the shooting can be witnessed by the world because of a bystander with a camera. There has been an notable increase in the number of police officers held responsible by the public for questionable decisions made while on duty, most notably the ones that lead to the death of someone else, and the ubiquity of cameras has played a large role.

The mayor of North Charleston, South Carolina has since said all patrol officers in the city will be required to wear cameras on their person. The state proposed a body cam bill last year, and South Carolina is one of at least 15 states considering such a bill. Toronto police have also been flirting with the everyday use of body cameras and placed them on 100 officers around the city last year to test their use.

The cameras don’t come without obstacles. The cameras themselves cost tax dollars, but the ongoing cost of storing the video they record is the bigger budget burden, and the current battery duration of these cameras doesn’t match the length of an officer’s shift so there needs to be rules put in place about where and when they are to be turned on and off.

The general rule being proposed is that officers would be required to turn on their camera whenever they are dealing with a member of the public. Every time they pull someone over or confront an individual in the street they switch on the camera to record the interaction.

Just about everybody has a camera in their pockets these days and it seems to have helped in keeping police more cautious of their actions in public, or to hold them accountable when they aren’t, but there isn’t always going to be a bystander with their phone out when these incidents occur. Even if police are given cameras on their person and put in control of when it is turned on or off, it’s a big step in holding them accountable for their actions.

If they don’t turn on the camera, or turn it off, while on duty that is a conscious action that they will have to provide reasoning for. Like any large change or new process being introduced there are sure to be issues, but that’s a part of the process. With time it will be determined how to best utilize body cams, but it seems a necessary step in protecting both the public and the police officers who protect them.