Almost as soon as the Ferguson incident became public, there was a public outcry to “see the video footage.” When it was announced that the Ferguson Police Departments did not have video cameras installed in their patrol cars, the cry changed to “All police cars should have cameras!”
So, what changed?
Well, the answer is simple. Everyone became an instant expert. A few years ago it was referred to as “CSI syndrome,” because it seems that everyone who watched a cop show decided they were an expert. Now it’s even easier – we have the internet. Now, everyone with a social media account can troll the sites and post an opinion without any real experience. Other people see the “expert’s opinion” and repeat it. Pretty soon everyone believes it.
Police cameras are the latest area of concern for these “experts.”
But will cameras really stop future events such as what took place in Ferguson?
- Cameras are not the perfect witness – just like a live witness, cameras are not perfect. They only capture what happens within their field of view and only after the unit has been activated.
- Technology is not fail proof – cameras, and the technology needed to use them, are susceptible to glitches or failures. When it happens, will the public understand and remember it is as simple as the last time their smartphone hiccupped, or will they blame it on a coverup or conspiracy?
- Cameras cost money – neither the cameras nor the equipment needed to run them are free. Units can cost hundreds of dollars each and often require additional software or network memory to utilize and store the data. Will taxpayers be willing to foot the bill after the dust settles?
- Attitudes change – prior to Ferguson, many Americans viewed drones, CCTV or body cameras as another invasion of their privacy. Although large numbers of citizens, and lawmakers, are now demanding cameras on every officer, how long before this attitude flips and the cameras again become targets?
- Some will simply not care – we have already seen examples of anti-law enforcement members refusing to let their opinion be swayed by video. If the video does not show what they want it to, they ignore it, edit it or blame police for editing it. Having more cameras on the street will not change this behavior; it will simply call into question more videos.
I have tried body mounted cameras and have sometimes wished I had one when I did not. Although I agree that there are times it would have been useful, I do not think they are the “silver bullet” that will solve all of the problems between law enforcement and the public. Don’t believe me? Wait until the next time a politician, their kid or another “prominent citizen” is recorded doing wrong and see how fast the tables are turned. Even if that politician voted for “Cameras on every cop.”