With a simmering distrust brewing between minority communities and police departments across the nation, the call for police body cameras is growing louder. However, critics argue that more body cameras will not offer a viable solution.
At the beginning of December, the White House asked for $263 million in funding for more police body cameras and training. On December 16, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that the City of Angels would buy 7,000 body cameras for police, using about $1 million in private donations. Dallas Police Chief David Brown also announced in mid-December that his department would use forfeiture funds to purchase 200 body cameras for officers.
These new body cameras will hopefully increase the transparency of police departments, making officers more accountable for their actions. With 72% of state police and highway patrol vehicles already using video systems successfully for similar purposes, the move to increase body cameras is a natural, logical one. If an officer’s actions fall outside of police procedure, the body camera footage will hold the office in question accountable.
They are not, however, a cure-all, as Garcetti recently acquiesced. He explained that the body cameras “are not a panacea, but they are a critical part of the formula. They’re a great step forward.”
His reasoning was that the body cameras would be used to help rebuild communities’ faith in police departments.
“The trust between a community and its police department can be eroded in a single moment,” said Garcetti. “Trust is built on transparency.”
However, critics argue that the case of Eric Garner shows that the body cameras may not, in fact, help at all. Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who was caught on a fellow officer’s body camera choking the unarmed African American Garner to death in a maneuver explicitly forbidden by the New York Police Department, was found not guilty.
Ironically, the only person involved in the Garner case who faces charges is Ramsey Orta — the man who recorded Pantaleo choking Garner. He was subsequently threatened by fellow officers and indicted on unrelated weapon-possession charges, which he claimed other police officers fabricated in retaliation for the video.
“No matter how damning the images they contain, they’re useless against the story of an officer in a system that treats police as infallible,” argues writer Joshua Kopstein in an editorial for Aljazeera.
In lieu of buying more surveillance equipment, Kopstein argues that correcting legal and societal standards would be a more effective solution. Raising the burden of proof under which an office could claim immunity, reforming the military culture police are trained in, and completely recasting law enforcement’s role would be a more appropriate response, he says.
“America’s broken policing system needs to be replaced,” argues Kopstein, “not have its batteries changed.”