The consensus thinking is that the public-safety sector, particularly law enforcement, is clamoring for the data-intensive applications that the proposed nationwide 700 MHz network will deliver, should it ever come to fruition. The application talked about most is video.

For instance, video could one day let incident commanders see what firefighters under their command are seeing, via helmet cameras, giving them greater insight into the situation. This, in turn, would enable them to formulate a more effective response strategy.

But the usage that seems to have everybody juiced is streaming video during a law-enforcement situation. Imagine if incident commanders could get eyes into a convenience store that's being held up. Imagine if detectives on stakeout could get a closer look at what's going on in the shadows without having to leave their vehicles.

Who wouldn't want to leverage technology that would make it easier to knock down fires, catch bad guys and to get first responders through their shifts safely? The answer to that question, apparently, is the Chicago Police Department's rank and file.

Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that some officers haven't been turning on the video cameras that were installed in 340 of the department's vehicles. (One camera looks forward through the windshield, while the other peers into the rear passenger seat, where arrestees are placed.) The situation apparently is so bad that corrective steps have been taken to install devices that will alert commanders when a vehicle is operating but its camera isn't. Later this year, the cameras will be tied directly to the ignition system, the Sun-Times reported, which should take care of the problem once and for all.

The reason cited for the officers' reluctance to use the video cameras is that they fear their actions and words later will be used against them, as officers sometimes have to use harsh language and varying degrees of force when apprehending or subduing offenders. The gist is that the officers don't want such events captured on video that later could find its way into a review-board hearing, a court of law or the court of public opinion.

I understand the concern, to a limited degree. No one wants to be the subject of a controversial video that ends up being broadcast worldwide via YouTube. (It seems that everything ends up on YouTube sooner or later, doesn't it?) On the other hand, I think that if I were an officer who was operating above-board and according to departmental procedures, I'd want the cameras on. I'd want the images and sound of my response to an incident captured, because it would establish the context for my actions. I have never been a police officer, so I have no idea what actually happens during a review-board hearing. But I'd like to think that those with a trained eye would be able to discern from such video whether an officer's actions and words were appropriate for the situation.

Is it not reasonable to think that video, instead of being something to fear, in reality could be an officer's best friend, protecting him from unwarranted claims of police harassment or brutality?

But it doesn't really matter what I think. What does matter is what police officers are thinking, and I'd bet my house that Chicago isn't the only place where officers have such concerns about video keeping an eye on them. This is something that needs to be on the radar screen of every public-safety official who's contemplating the broadband future. The most whiz-bang technology out there is worthless if those who it's intended to benefit refuse to use it, and fear can be a crippling deterrent to such use. Fortunately, the 700 MHz network is years away from completion — in fact, it's probably several years away from being started — so there's plenty of time for attitude adjustment.

I'd also bet the house that police officers will change their thinking. As the Sun-Times reported, officers at first weren't keen on wearing radios on their belts or using the laptops that were installed in their cars. Is there an officer today who doesn't think those items to be indispensable? I doubt it. The same will be said about video one day.

What do you think? Tell us in the comment box below.