It seems that every day since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, stories of police brutality are growing in numbers. Many are searching for a solution to the problem, and one step toward positive change may have been found: body cameras.
In some jurisdictions, police have long worn cameras, and studies, like one by the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center showed the cameras had a positive relationship in improving officer and citizen interaction. Philadelphia police need to adopt the same policy – body cameras, turned on at all times, for every on-duty police officer in the Philadelphia Police Department.
An article published by The Guardian on Nov. 4, 2013 reported that in a study conducted in the town of Rialto, California, where all 70 police officers wore cameras, complaints against officers and use of force went down by 88 percent and 60 percent, respectively.
If this program is working, why isn’t it being tried in other areas?
The main complaint is cost – in December the Washington Post reported a body camera costs approximately $1,000. According to its website, the PPD is made up of more than 6,600 officers. To outfit each officer with a body camera could total over 6.6 million dollars. This number seems incredibly high — until one reads the money paid out over a five-year period to settle police misconduct lawsuits.
The Daily News reported that from January 2009 to October 2014, the PPD settled 584 of its 1,223 lawsuits, at a total of $40 million according to a study published on muckrock.com. It would take less than a year to make up for lost money in lawsuits if police complaints were to fall at such a rate as studies have suggested.
The backbone of the argument is that the cameras keep officers accountable.
“When you know you’re being watched you behave a little better. That’s just human nature,” Tony Farrar, a police chief in Rialto, California told The Guardian.
In the report published by Michael White of the OJP Diagnostic Center, it was determined that there is enough evidence to support that there is a “civilizing effect” on officers knowingly being recorded. It was also noted that citizens are less likely to report false or trivial complaints if they know that they are being recorded.
As responsible and informed citizens, we have a responsibility to push for the highest of standards in regards to our safety and the protection of our rights. Therefore, body cameras alone are not the one-step solution to the issue of police brutality.
On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner was killed by police officers for selling untaxed cigarettes. He was choked out, a maneuver banned in 1993, and it was all captured on video. On Dec. 4, we learned that there would be no indictment by a grand jury in Garner’s killing.
The death of Eric Garner demonstrates exactly why body cameras are only the first step in holding police officers accountable for their actions and for the protection of citizens. Citizens, both in Philadelphia and around the world, need to be educated about their rights when dealing with police officers, including filming them until such a time when police officers are equipped with body cameras.
If we do bear witness to inappropriate police actions, then it is our responsibility to share the experience. We cannot expect things to change if we do not know what is in our power to make sure that corrupt or inappropriately behaving police officers are held accountable for their actions.
The PPD absolutely needs to take the first step in implementing body cameras for every officer sooner rather than later. We have seen entirely too much police brutality and misconduct across the nation recently to justify continued inaction in finding a solution.
Body cameras are the first step in solving the problem, followed by citizen responsibility. If we incorporate these ideas into our lives and into Philadelphia, we will create a safer, better city to live in.
Vince Bellino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org