I’m not a legal expert by any means. I also know the subject I’m about to discuss is a hornet’s nest in every sense of the metaphor. Nevertheless, I think it’s too important not to talk about.
The subject is the emerging trend and debate about police wearing body cameras to film their patrols and arrests. Hammond’s police force is now equipped with cameras, and a few other forces in the Region might follow suit.
Body cams are ostensibly about policing the police, making sure that they respect suspects’ rights and don’t break the law themselves. You might have heard increased calls for their adoption recently in the wake of highly publicized killings of (mostly minority) suspects by police officers.
I’m not sure it will make a difference about that. A few of those controversial deaths have been on video recorded by bystanders. And even when the video evidence was pretty clear, several officers involved didn’t faced any legal repercussions. Nor did it ever seem to affect anyone’s opinion, so thoroughly were they entrenched in their view of the cops’ actions.
That’s troubling enough, but what’s really scary is that while the consensus is body cams will be a win for rights of the accused, it's not hard to picture it doing the opposite. We already live in the age when we're constantly recorded and nearly everything we do leaves a digital trail of some sort. Adding yet another recording apparatus, even one with the best of intentions, only lessens our privacy and grows the surveillance state even more.
Moreover, I can imagine instances where body cams will be a detriment to the accused. Even if they're used properly and not abused, recorded videos could still bring undue incrimination upon suspects. The Miranda rights recited by every cop when a person is arrested explicitly state that what they say can be used against them in court. Well, what about video of their arrest? It's not outside the realm of possibility that video could make them look bad and skew jurors, precluding a fair trial.
I hope I’m worrying over nothing, and that if body cams do become more widespread, they do good things for the relationship between the police and the people they serve. But just in case, I hope as they start to catch on, they’re accompanied by regulations and wide-reaching legislation or court cases making sure they do only that.