Do Police Body Cams Have Any Downsides?
By Ken K. Gourdin
Do police body cams have any downsides? They increase officers’ accountability to the public they serve, and they protect officers, their agencies, and their municipalities from liability based on false accusations, yes. But, as Salt Lake City Deseret News editorial columnist Jay Evensen points out, in some cases, they may be a double-edged-sword. See Mr. Evensen’s piece here (last accessed July 14, 2016):
A couple of commenters felt misled by the headline placed above Mr. Evensen’s piece, and I responded (excerpts of what the commenters wrote appear in quotation marks):
“The cameras tell a story, but that is also exactly what happens in the real world with investigators, law enforcement, and prosecutors. They are telling a story – a highly biased one – as their objective is arrests, convictions, and time served; they are measured by their superiors and in their personal careers by these benchmarks.”
To the contrary, while a contrary view may, at times and in individual cases, reflect an ideal more than it reflects reality, the primary duty of police and prosecutors is not reflected in the number of arrests and convictions, or in the amount of time served: their primary duty is to do justice. If justice is best served by arresting someone, by prosecuting him, and by incarcerating him, so be it. However, if justice is best served by employing other remedies, then that is what should be done. Such measures as community- and problem-oriented policing, Crisis Intervention Training, and drug and mental health courts recognize this.
“I’m not sure I understand; the headline says cameras can hinder justice, but the entire article only lists the multiple ways they help. I can’t see any possible scenario where a video recording of what went on can be a bad thing to have.”
Then perhaps you need to reread Mr. Evensen’s piece: “… [D]ramatic as they may be, such videos seldom tell the whole story. … Like it or not, we live in a time when virtually any incident can be recorded and widely disseminated. The result is a greater level of accountability, but it also seems to be less patience for the rules and procedures that justice requires.”
Also, one point Mr. Evensen doesn’t mention is that once it is in the hands of a third party (even, sometimes, a news organization) with an agenda, that video may be selectively edited to tell even less of the whole story.