I recently returned from meetings in Baltimore, Maryland, where I was seeking speakers for our Pro-Law Enforcement Summit on Transparency & Accountability; there, I came across an interesting officer perspective on body cameras.
One labor leader in charge of a body camera program for his department insists that the cameras are pointing outward, towards the public, and away from the arresting officer. Philosophically, this means it is the citizens’ behavior that is on trial, not the officers’. Although admittedly capturing audio and real time images of police actions, the truth is that the vast majority of film is of the perpetrators and victims, not the police.
This has, in my opinion, significant implications for citizens who did not envisioned body cameras as a tool which could also hold them accountable. Until recently, the primary societal focus was on officer conduct and respecting the rights of citizens. With the advent of body cameras and other forms of surveillance, the sometimes atrocious behavior of ordinary citizens is now full stage on television and the internet. For the first time in history, misbehavior by suspects is being filmed, sometimes live, with the resulting footage streaming across the internet and broadcasted by the networks.
Citizens are coming to realize that THEIR behavior is being recorded and will be scrutinized in a very public manner, right alongside that of the police.
I think this is a great trend that holds ALL OF US accountable for our actions during interactions with the police. I feel that we need to PROMOTE the idea that “transparency” goes both ways and that should citizens choose to act inappropriately towards the police, they will pay a similar price in adverse public notoriety as do the arresting officers.
This may yet be another example of the “Civilizing Effect” of body cameras, only this time, it is also the public’s behavior being scrutinized.