Last week I wrote about the concerns of some Chicago police officers who are declining to switch on the video cameras in their patrol cars. The officers, according to a story in the Chicago Sun-Times, are fearful that the recordings could be used against them later, in either departmental or civil proceedings. I opined that the exact opposite should be true, if the officers are operating above board and according to departmental policy, because the video would exonerate them from wrongful claims of harassment or discrimination. I also suggested that, if such fears were to retard the use of video by law enforcement, then the promise of first-responder broadband communications would not be fully realized.

Several readers wrote to tell me that I was wrong, at least about the first opinion. They suggested that officers are justified in their fears, because video can be manipulated, civil lawyers are crafty, juries often act irrationally and review boards often have political agendas. The consensus reply was that first responders who put their lives on the line shouldn’t have to endure second-guessing, especially from those who have no idea what it’s like to walk in their shoes.

I can understand this to a point. One of my younger brothers is a former Cook County (Ill.) Sheriff’s deputy. A childhood friend is a sergeant for a suburban Chicago police department. They’ve told me all sorts of nasty stories. Based on what I’ve heard, I know that I do not possess the temperament to be a law-enforcement officer. The first time some miscreant spat in my face or some such thing, I’d be up on charges — guaranteed.

To illustrate my point, I’ll share a quick anecdote about myself: when I was a college student, I once chased a punk who had been trying to steal my car at 2 a.m. more than a block. This is because I tend to act impulsively, especially in the heat of the moment — not a good trait for anyone who aspires to a career in law enforcement. I eventually got close enough to whack him over the head with a fireplace shovel, which knocked him cold. With my brother’s help, we then dragged him back to the house by his ankles in order to turn him over to the police. After doing so, I noticed that my feet were bleeding, as they had been sliced up by various ice shards they had encountered during the chase. I didn’t care — I’m not a fan of thieves. Like I said, I tend to act impulsively.

As it turned out, my brother didn’t have the temperament to make a career in law enforcement, either. He recognized this and, before he could commit an act that he later would regret, he left the department and found another line of work.

Law-enforcement officers encounter all sorts of nasty things every single day. They are human, just like everyone else. That makes them just as vulnerable to heat-of-the-moment actions as the rest of us. The difference, however, between sworn officers of the law and those who they serve and protect is that the former must be held to a higher standard because of the power they wield. Without checks and balances, a badge and a gun together would be a license to commit all sorts of mayhem in the hands of the nefarious or those who lack the discipline to avoid succumbing to heat-of-the-moment temptations. In-vehicle video systems provide a way to keep officers in check. I wonder whether the Los Angeles Police Department officers who beat Rodney King nearly two decades ago would have done so had in-vehicle and/or municipal video-surveillance systems been in place. I doubt it.

In-vehicle systems also will keep officers safer and, more importantly, they will provide additional evidence that can be used to put the bad guys away. Both are good things. As a taxpayer, that’s what I want.

I’m betting that most officers don’t fear video, because they follow procedure and demonstrate appropriate restraint. Those who do should consider the decision that my brother made. A career in law-enforcement isn’t for everybody — and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there is something wrong with leaving the video camera off because you’re afraid of what it might capture. As my father often reminded me, if you’re not doing anything that you know is wrong, then you don’t have to worry about who’s watching.

All of that said, one reader made a point to which I couldn’t agree more. While Chicago reportedly now is taking steps to hardwire the in-vehicle system to the ignition system to prevent field officers from turning the cameras off once they’re on the street, this reader wondered why that wasn’t done from the outset. It’s a very good question.

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