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  • Writer's pictureThe Beacon Today

Police officer, law professor have differing opinions on impact of body cameras

Photo by : West Midlands Police Flickr

West Palm Beach, Fla. -- The West Palm Beach Police Department began using body cameras back in 2015, which followed a national trend. A year later, the number of police departments in the United States that implemented body cameras reached 47%.

In 2016, residents in Palm Beach County and West Palm Beach were surveyed by the Haas Center at the University of Florida about their opinions on body cameras and policing. The survey found that most people strongly supported body cameras because they believe it makes residents safer and improves law enforcement behavior.

Body cameras were implemented with the goal of keeping police officers more accountable and improving transparency. According to Ariel et. al (2015) study, the implementation of body cameras led to a 52% reduction in use of force.

“It provides more evidence in cases of alleged police misconduct,” said James Todd, an associate professor of politics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. “To keep police officers more accountable.”

It also sheds light on any discrepancies that occur after an incident takes place and helps combat police brutality in some cases. When there is an altercation that takes place, the police department and often the public can see what happened from beginning to end.

“There’s often a debate about what really happens when a subject is killed, and the body camera gives us more evidence for evaluating that in the court and in the court of public opinion,” Todd said.

While there are many benefits of police using body cameras, there are those who oppose body cameras, too. A Fort Lauderdale police officer, who asked to not be identified, says body cameras have added stress to an already stressful job and that the benefits don’t outweigh the cost.

Another reason why some could be opposed to body cameras is that a portion of the public doesn’t understand the common practices in policing.

“Maybe it’s common policing to order a suspect to do something but that looks bad on video and creates a false impression,” Todd said. “(The public) think something is wrong when it’s not wrong.”

Furthermore, body cameras have had a massive impact in the court of law. It obviously depends on a case-by-case basis, but body cameras can be used as a significant piece of evidence. The recent trial of Kim Potter is a prime example of this.

The body camera shows the 26-year veteran police officer repeatedly yelling “Taser,” which clearly indicated she accidentally drew her firearm instead of her taser before she killed Daunte Wright. In the end, the body camera didn’t end up helping her in the trial.

“(Potter) might have thought that having the body camera there would exonerate her, but she was found guilty by a jury,“ Todd said. “People can see the same footage and interpret it multiple different ways.”

A Fort Lauderdale police officer who chooses to remain unnamed believes body cameras have deteriorated public trust. The public questions the integrity of the field because of the small percentage of bad officers.

“The vast majority of officers have always told the truth, and now they are being questioned as if they are lying if it’s not on the body camera,” the officer said.

The police officer said he believes that the media focuses its attention on “the few bad apples,” and that is why a divide has been created between law enforcement and the public.

By: Aaron Heckmann

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