Body-worn camera technology promising, but more work is needed, IACP panelists say
CHICAGO—Deploying body-worn cameras on police officers is an idea that rapidly has gained popularity during the past year, but some details surrounding the use of the cameras still should be resolved, two police chiefs and the top NAACP official said yesterday during a panel at the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) 2015 event.
All panelists agreed that body-worn cameras on officers promote greater accountability among officers, which is particularly important at a time when multiple high-profile allegations of law-enforcement misconduct have undermined trust of public safety, particularly in minority communities.
NAACP President and CEO Cornell Brooks said he does not believe that body-worn camera are a panacea, but the video evidence they provide can be extremely helpful in clarifying disputed incidents, whether it exonerates an officer’s actions or documents an example of excessive use of force.
“I don’t believe that there are a large number of people who believe that technology only can solve the problem,” Brooks said during the panel, which was part of a general session at IACP 2015. “But we already have so many instances where the public is left literally with dead bodies, no answers and no means of determining what happened, other than a police report. We need more than that.”
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said she believes that video from body-worn cameras can be very useful, but there are a number of policy questions that need to be answered as soon as possible, particularly as they relate to issues of privacy that could be compromised if law-enforcement video is shared publicly.
“I think it promotes transparency, and early data shows that those organizations using body cameras seem to be getting greater results—fewer complaints against the police, fewer use-of-force incidents and everybody seems to behave better, [including] suspects and police officers,” O’Toole said.
“But it’s very, very important that we strike the right balance between transparency and privacy. We have to get our policies and procedures right. We need to work with civil-liberties groups. We need to all come to the table and talk about striking that proper balance.”
Will Johnson, chief of police for the city of Arlington, Texas, said he believes that research needs to be done that can help quantify the overall impact of deploying body-worn camera systems, instead of basing key decisions on anecdotal evidence. Communities will need to decide whether spending money to purchase and maintain body-camera systems is the best use of taxpayer funds, he said.
“I think the greatest question is: What’s the return on investment?” Johnson said. “Because we’re talking about the public’s money funding these [body-camera] programs, and yet we’re also talking about unfunding in mental health, substance abuse and educational opportunities for youth.
“I think they have value, but I don’t think that we’ve fully answered the question: Do they improve the public’s trust [in public safety]? We know that they improve accountability for officers and for the community, but does it improve the public trust?”