Body cameras were initially pitched as a measure of accountability for law enforcement. This accountability, in turn, would lead to greater trust between law enforcement and the community it serves. Now a new study from researchers at George Mason University examines the impact of body cams. This study is the largest of its kind, but it’s far from conclusive due to the relative infancy of the topic.
That said, a few revelations are clear:
- Turning the tables accountability: While officers were initially resistant to the concept of cameras, they are increasingly embracing it. The wrinkle is that officers are using the cameras to hold citizenry accountable for their actions instead of the cameras use to ensure law enforcement is following proper protocols and constitutional law.
- Cameras are not improving behavior: Initial analysis of behavior reveals that law enforcement with a camera is not improving its’ behavior in such areas as rudeness, constitutional violations or physical force.
- Cameras may make the situation worse: The cameras might exacerbate the relationship if citizens have expectations that those cameras will lead to full accountability and transparency.
- Footage is not always shared: There is some legal cover about why the footage is not released, such as state laws and department policy involving ongoing cases.
Still a long way to go
While increased transparency should be applauded, one thing that seems clear is that body cams were sold by advocates to lawmakers and the public before there was any evidence that they would help monitor police actions. As protocols are refined and usage increases, improvements are likely, including accountability on all sides.
This all means that a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will still be important for protecting the constitutional rights of their clients, sometimes even with footage from a body camera. Even without footage, these legal professionals have other tools at their disposal to help protect the rights of their clients.