Should Body Cameras Be Mandatory For All Police?


In Balch Springs, Texas, where a police officer recently shot and killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards as the teenager’s car was driving away. The police department had video that showed what happened was inconsistent with the officer’s initial statement, thanks to the body-worn camera on the officer. Three days after Jordan was killed, the officer who shot him was fired and now faces murder charges.

As the investigation continues, one thing is absolutely clear — video technology is shaping our world, particularly in the context of police oversight.
Technology is neither good nor bad. It’s what we make it. Last month, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) expanded its body-worn camera pilot program for patrol officers. As the program sparks healthy debate throughout the City and the country, I believe there is both a challenge and an opportunity in using this new technology — with privacy and justice as shared priorities. Concerns about how data will be collected, held, used and shared are legitimate. Yet body-worn camera footage — just like bystander and surveillance video — can be a tool for police accountability and for supporting officers who behave lawfully.

The NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB), reviews almost 5,000 cases of alleged police misconduct every year. Investigators review many types of evidence, including video recordings from diverse sources like surveillance cameras, cell phones from witnesses and, in rare case, body-worn cameras.

Video footage provides investigators objective details of incidents. The CCRB recently analyzed allegations of misconduct in New York City over the last five years, and it found that these recordings help the CCRB make more determinations in allegations of police misconduct than in those without video. Currently, much of this footage is from civilians and CCTV.

The CCRB considers an allegation determined “on its merits” if there is sufficient credible evidence to determine what happened. That could mean we “substantiate” the allegation (it happened and was misconduct), find that it didn’t happen or find that it happened, but the officer behaved lawfully. Thanks to video footage, CCRB has been able to substantially increase the cases we resolve. Last year, the CCRB closed 57% of allegations with video evidence on the merits compared to 45% of allegations without video. In 2015, those numbers were 56% and 41%, respectively. In 2014, the agency closed 53% of allegations with video on the merits” compared to 39% without video that year.

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