In a move that will surely bring the ire of Congressional Republicans, President Obama has issued an executive order authorizing $263 million in federal funding for police body cameras and better training. Specifically, he believes the time has long since come to address increasing police use of force, particularly against minorities and in predominantly-minority neighborhoods. The cameras and the training are steps in that direction.
Police body cameras do cut down on instances of use of force and brutality. They have a two-fold purpose: The first is to provide citizens with a layer of protection against unnecessary force. The cameras will record what really happened, and if they’re turned off when the incident took place, that will raise considerable suspicion.
The second is to protect officers against exaggerated or false complaints, because, again, police body cameras show exactly what happened. So if the “victim” is lying or exaggerating, the footage from the camera will show it.
The New York Times did a report on a study about the effect of police body cameras. In Rialto, Calif., the body cams caused a stunning 88 percent drop in complaints about unnecessary force over a 12-month period. 88 percent!
In addition, the police body cameras were linked to a 60 percent drop in officers’ use of force over the same period. 60 percent is nothing to sneeze at, either. Besides that, the decision to use force was higher among officers not wearing the cameras than it was for those who did.
The New York Times also talked to the ACLU about the privacy implications of police body cameras. They said that they don’t like the networks of police-run cameras in cities, but wearable cameras on officers are a different story. It comes down to the citizens watching the government, instead of the government watching the citizens.
According to The Huffington Post, Republicans blocked a possible solution to one of the underlying issues with today’s police forces; the transfer of surplus military equipment to police departments. The bi-partisan bill wouldn’t have prohibited departments from buying that equipment with their own budgets, but would prevent the Pentagon from giving it to them.
Opponents of this initiative seem to believe that police departments never misuse their equipment. Back in June, before Ferguson even happened, they argued that police forces need military gear to combat terrorism. What terrorism, though, have they fought in their own jurisdictions? The mere threat of terrorism, and the idea of protecting the public (or, more accurately, fear-mongering) is often enough to silence the populace about this kind of problem until it’s too serious to solve easily.
However, police body cameras are a different story. Some departments have started pilot programs using these cameras, not just to test their effectiveness, but also to test the logistics of having so much footage to curate, and also to see how invasive they are when it comes to privacy.
The police body cameras that Obama wants to fund will cover only a fraction of the police officers around the country. According to The Hill, though, state and local police departments would need to match the funding they receive for the cameras. With that stipulation, the White House figures $75 million of the total $263 million will cover the cameras. The rest of that money will go towards the training necessary to change the way police behave and respond to situations, particularly in minority neighborhoods.