Citizen interactions with police are currently under fire in the media in the aftermath of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner incidents. This increased scrutiny has many a police force debating over whether officer body cameras should be employed.
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has said that body cameras were being discussed even before the Grand Jury's decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Mayor Reed has said on the NBC show “Meet the Press” that the City of Atlanta would be swiftly putting body cameras on all officers very soon. As an Atlanta DUI Lawyer, I am pleased with this decision
Mayor Reed also went on to say that what happened in Ferguson “can happen anywhere,” and situations all come down to officer judgment.
At first blush, police body cameras seem like a great idea and a simple solution to the growing problem of alleged police misconduct. With video evidence of law enforcement's interactions, some would wonder why they have not been used before now.
However, it is imperative for the public to recognize and understand how legal these cameras are and the pros and cons of employing such technology.
First, let us discuss the pluses of police body cameras:
- Reduced number of complaints made against officers for excessive use of force. When people know they are being watched, they tend to be on their best behavior. Police officers are no exception. Cities that currently use body cameras report a decrease in police complaints about using excessive force, etc. On the flip side of that, citizens are more likely be cooperative with police and exhibit less violence toward officers.
- Any abuse or perceived abuse can be caught “on tape” and officers can be held accountable for their actions. In the past, police testimony was heavily relied upon without much physical evidence. Video evidence would give a clearer account of what transpired in an interaction between an officer and a citizen.
- Recorded witness testimony. Cameras will eliminate errors in writing down witness statements, and there is an added plus of said comments being recorded before valuable information can be forgotten.
- Valuable evidence is recorded and can be used in court. This keeps evidence from being lost as there is a saved video account of the interaction/incident.
Now for the minuses:
- Significant cost to law enforcement agencies. In a country that is still economically unstable, many governments are still tightening their belts on spending money on things that are not deemed necessary.
- Privacy issues. Privacy issues still have not been ironed out regarding the use of police body cameras. These issues concern officers and citizens alike. Will police be able to record video of others without their consent? Could they video a person's private residence without a warrant?
- Officers turning them on/off. Law enforcement could turn cameras off and on at their discretion to avoid recording certain things.
- Victims of crime could feel intimidated. People who are victims of sexual assault and other related offenses could feel victimized by being made to make a recorded statement at the scene where privacy is not secure.
- Are the videos public record? Videos could be reviewed by the general public and cause issues for employment, school, and just plain public embarrassment in one's community. Another thing to consider is how the videos are kept, accessed, and stored.
Body Cameras and DUI:
As for how cameras will affect DUI stops and investigations, DUI stops have been recorded by many police departments for years. Police are already able to record a DUI suspect's driving and performance on field sobriety tests. Body cameras will now be able to record things that before, were only proven by officer testimony such as a person's appearance (glassy eyes, etc.). Field sobriety tests and verbal interaction with suspects and police will now likely include more detail of the suspect's behavior because they are being filmed at close range and not from the dashboard of a police patrol car.
All of these factors and more should be taken into consideration when forming an opinion on police body cameras. However, one thing is sure: the law should change in the way a person is charged with a crime solely based on an officer's opinion or judgment. Failure to have an arrest videoed would cause a rebuttable presumption in favor of the accused in such crimes as DUI, obstruction, and giving false information to the police, to name a few.
All in all, body cameras are coming. This is a good thing for the general public and the police. As an Atlanta DUI Attorney, I am pleased with Mayor Reed's decision.