Police departments nationwide are researching the benefits and implications of equipping their officers with body mounted cameras. Once seen as a novel experiment, many police chiefs and public officials are now seriously considering the technology after the recent death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the scandal that arose after the officer’s version of the story differed greatly from eyewitnesses.
Arizona State University professor, Michael White, has researched the use of body cameras and predicts that they will one day be as common as Tasers. White, a professor of criminology and criminal justice, estimates that approximately 25 percent of the nation’s police departments currently utilize body cameras. He predicts this number will increase to at least one third within the next year.
The biggest questions raised by the use of body cameras involve cost and whether the cameras will record everything.
A 2014 study by the Police Executive Research Forum found various departments spent from $120 to $2,000 for each camera. A 2013 study showed that the Mesa Police Department spent approximately $67,000 for an initial purchase of just 50 cameras.
The Department of Justice issued guidelines on how and when to record, but departments disagree over when body cameras should be used. Some err on the side of caution and feel cameras should be used whenever an officer encounters the public. Others feel recordings are necessary only when an officer issues a citation or responds to a particular call. Constant recording raises issues of rights to privacy, and limited recording raises issues of differing stories in the event of hostile encounters.
The American Civil Liberties Union hopes that open recording will promote better behavior of both private citizens and police officers. Some departments have seen a decrease in complaints of officer conduct in areas where cameras are regularly used. The argument for better behavior rests on the notion that people behave better when they know they are being recorded.