The debate over the use body cameras has involved many arguments, but the New Hampshire Legislature has taken it to new heights, proposing a bill which would make their use mandatory by officers with a past history of complaints. The question is will this mark officers with the modern equivalent of a Scarlet Letter?
We all remember the story from high school literature class – a Puritan woman was accused of adultery and made to wear a large red “A” on her clothing, announcing her crime to all she encountered. Now, two New Hampshire Legislatures, Rep. Dyer and Rep. Hynes, are attempting to resurrect the practice with a modern twist. House Bill 643-FN-A would require officers who have been the subject of substantiated complaints concerning conduct to wear a body camera. But the not only is the bill vague in both its definition of substantiated complaints concerning conduct, but also fails to consider the potential danger it could place such officers in during future confrontations.
First, there is the wording, or lack thereof, contained within the bill. I have read a great many bills during my career, and HB 643-FN-A is possibly the shortest and most lacking in specific details. The majority of the Bill deals with how the cameras are to be paid for, which will be through an increase in the court costs assessed. Truthfully, this is probably the aspect of the program which is actually addressed in any detail, although, it does fail to estimate the annual cost associated with maintaining the system. What is never addressed is a definition concerning what is meant by “substantiated complaint based on the officer’s conduct.”
“I. A law enforcement officer who is the subject of a substantiated complaint based on the officer’s conduct which occurred while the officer was in uniform and engaged in law enforcement-related encounters or activities shall be required to wear a body-worn camera prior to engaging in any future law enforcement-related encounters or activities.”
So what is meant by “substantiated complaint based on the officer’s conduct?” Not only is there no definition of “substantiated,” but “officer’s conduct” is also a definition left open to interpretation. Does this mean the officer who has a history of speeding will now get a camera? How about one who is the subject of complaints concerning the number of tickets they write? I believe the intent was to address officers with past complaints concerning use of force or professionalism, but that is nowhere to be found.
But of bigger concern to me is the fact that if this bill were to pass, by wearing a camera, officers would be singled out as potential targets when dealing with the public in the future. Any officer wearing a camera in the future would automatically be identified as someone with a history of complaints, something some members of the public might use to leverage doubt in criminal cases or to substantiate their own claims of misconduct.
Hopefully this bill fails to move through the New Hampshire Legislature, but if it does, they may as well include a bull’s-eye in the packaging because that is what the camera will become.
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