Call for police body cameras is now
On Monday, President Barack Obama proposed a new funding plan that would require police officers to wear body cameras and undergo special training in order to better help them interact with the minority communities they serve. The plan, for which the White House is requesting $263 million, comes in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old from Ferguson, Missouri. Although this call for action seems like a sensible thing to do, the complexity of the issue surrounding police activities raises important questions as to the applicability of this new, proposed law. Why do we need police body cameras? Is this an appropriate response? What can we do to support or oppose it?
Police misconduct existed long before the shooting incident in Ferguson. While crime rates in the United States have sharply declined over the past few decades, the relationship between the public and police departments has encountered several obstacles. Part of the reason we have grown wary of the police is because of the media. It seems as though we only hear about the reprehensible actions committed by the police. It is important to understand that not everything the police does is wrong, but it is also important to recognize that there are plenty of times when officers violate the very law they are supposed to enforce. We commonly associate police misconduct with brutality or excessive force, but police misconduct can take many forms. As a result, we see and hear about many instances where the police exercise their authority in a corrupt manner. Recently, the shooting incident in Ferguson has highlighted this potential corruption.
Last week, a grand jury refused to indict the police officer who shot Brown. There have been many accounts as to whether the officer acted appropriately, and I am not going to argue if his actions were indeed corrupt. What I am going to say is that the whole ordeal has caused parties from all sides to look at the issue of police corruption. In light of the grand jury’s decision, civil rights leaders, political activists and Brown’s family are all calling for police officers to wear body cameras. At first glance, this seems like an excellent idea that should have been implemented sooner. Body cameras will more or less prove the guilt or innocence of a suspect that has been arrested off the street. They will give prosecutors and defense attorneys the opportunity to look at what events transpired at the time of arrest so as to ensure that an officer was acting appropriately. However, there are legitimate concerns as to the usage of body cameras. You might think that only criminals and dirty cops would be against body cameras, but average citizens are against them as well. For instance, body cameras would, in some cases, eliminate any semblance of privacy. Victims of crimes are already unwilling to testify because of privacy concerns. Individuals uncomfortable with their sexuality also want their privacy ensured. If police end up wearing body cameras, these people might be less willing to cooperate with law enforcement officials. It would not surprise me if this issue would ever reach the Supreme Court on the grounds of violation of privacy. Furthermore, a lot of people are not comfortable being recorded. They do not like the idea of their actions being caught on camera so that they can be scrutinized in the future.
The police play an active role in the Rutgers community, so everyday students get to see them in action. Obama’s plan requires congressional approval in order to be enacted, so if you are against the idea of police wearing body cameras, you do not need to do anything. However, if you think that body cameras are a good idea, then speak out. Contact your congressman and tell him how you feel. If you are angry with how the police handled the situation in Ferguson, if you are tired of the police abusing their authority, then protest. You may not think your voice matters, but it really does.
Samuel Suhotliv is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student.