Police officers face increasing scrutiny for their everyday actions. In the UK, the shooting of Mark Duggan in 2011 sparked mass riots and caused widespread distrust of the police. In the USA, there is deep distrust of the police following a number of incidents where white police officers have shot and killed unarmed black civilians.
Could the use of body cameras be the way to help rebuild trust?
The Arguments for Body Cameras
There is evidence that wearing bodycams results in a significant improvement in the behaviour of both the police and the public. This in turn should hopefully improve relations and trust between the two. One research study by the University of Cambridge showed that the number of complaints lodged against police officers who were visibly wearing body cameras dropped by a staggering 93% in the space of just one year.
The footage from body worn cameras is the indisputably true version of what happened. Eye-witness accounts are notoriously unreliable, and official reports have the potential to be inaccurate or even altered. This footage can be helpful in terms of clarifying timings.
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The Arguments Against
While these might seem to be great reasons to think that the use of body cameras is the way forward and could help improve relations between the police and the public, there are a number of potential downsides to consider.
Due to battery constraints, cameras won’t be switched on or filming 100% of the time. This could cause the suspicion that they are being selectively used or turned off by officers with something to hide. Also, technology does not always work as it should, so there may be crucial moments missed due to technological failures.
Who is in charge of deciding what can be shared and when and how is crucial in terms of building trust in the use of cameras. In an ideal world, these policies should be agreed through a consultancy process between the police and the public before cameras are deployed.
These cameras need to be seen as a way of promoting transparency as opposed to just another surveillance tool.