Police Body Camera Testing In DC & LA. Good Idea Or Privacy Invasion?

by
Suzanne Robertson
Officials hope the cameras will protect both officers and the public.

An actress in Los Angeles, Daniele Watts, has accused the LAPD of racial bias when questioned about having sex in a car on a public street.  

Would an on-body camera worn by the police have proven her accusations of racism true? Or would a recording of the encounter have shown that the cops acted appropriately? 

Officials hope that body cameras worn by police can help resolve "he said, she said" issues. 

Pilot programs to test body cameras on cops are in place in the racially diverse and high-crime cities of .LA. and Washington D.C. The cameras will record all interactions between law enforcement and citizens. 


The D.C. program will start on October 1st with 164 police officers wearing the cameras. Los Angeles has had a pilot program in the works for over a year. 

The body cameras come at a time when law enforcement is facing intense scrutiny from the public. With bystanders already recording encounters with mobile phones, the time is right for police to implement similar technology. Camera prototypes can be clipped onto shirt collars, eyeglasses or police headgear. 

A Chicago Tribune Opinion piece on September 25th, calls for basic privacy protections for the man on the street before programs are launched. 

"If we don't, police body cameras may devolve into yet another tool for routine surveillance of the public, not oversight of the police", writes Jeremy Gorner. 

Concerns include recordings in places like homes and apartments where people expect privacy.  Another concern is self-activation. Are officers able to turn cameras on and off? If so, use of force interactions might not be recorded, leading to the same problems the cameras are supposed to prevent. 

Mass surveillance is also an area of concern as outlined in last year's ACLU recommendations on accountability vs. privacy when police body cameras are in place.

Baltimore and Seattle law enforcement officials are watching the L.A. and D.C. programs closely and might implement similar programs. 

 

 

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