One potential solution for bridging the deep mistrust between law enforcement and the public is requiring police officers to wear body cameras. It appears as though The White House is along the same line of thinking. The government is weighing in on a recent national debate that was sparked off by the shooting of an unarmed black man last month in Ferguson, Missouri.
In the time following Michael Brown’s death, over 150,000 people took to the White House’s website to sign an online petition that was urging Obama to generate and sign a law that requires all law enforcement officers to wear body cameras. The cameras are small, lapel-mounted gadgets, which are capable of recording the police’s interactions with the general public. To create a new law would require an act of Congress. However, in a recent blog post, the White House has said police departments are increasingly choosing to use the devices.
Roy Austin, a White House adviser on Justice and Urban Affairs issues, wrote in response to the petition, “We support the use of cameras and video technology by law enforcement officers, and the Department of Justice continues to research best practices for implementation,”
Austin has said the Justice Department is weighing up how body cameras are working for departments already using them so they can be deployed in a better way the future. Yet he did warn there were financial costs that “cannot be ignored,” as well as questions about privacy that still have not been answered. These questions have far reaching consequences, such as; who should have access to the videos and exactly how long they should be kept for.
A report from the Justice Department, which was in the pipeline for ages before the Ferguson shooting, noted there is some evidence that both police and civilians behave in a more responsible manner when they know there are cameras being used. The report also notes how footage taken from the cameras can be utilised to train officers.
Austin did warn, however, that cameras alone cannot solve the problem of mistrust. “Most Americans are law-abiding, and most law enforcement officers work hard day-in and day-out to protect and serve their communities,” he said.
The demand for police to wear the cameras has escalated across the country since Brown’s death was the catalyst in a spree of street protests. These protests drew the focus of the nation to Ferguson. Some officers in the suburb of St. Louis have started wearing the cameras since the incident, and the New York Police department has become the largest department in the U.S. to adopt the technology when it launched a pilot program for the technology in early September.
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