This is What Happens When Officers Can Turn Off Body Cameras

Advocates of police accountability have been arguing that police officers should be required to wear body cameras while on duty. Although there was some resistance to this idea from police apologists that has mostly faded. Many of them are now on board with the idea because they understand that body cameras can collect evidence to prosecute more people and that officers and disable the cameras when they’re about to beat somebody down. That second part is important because it will render any of the benefits of body cameras useless. What we can expect in the future is what Denver is experiencing now:

As the nation’s policing agents scramble to provide street officers with body cameras, a new study released Wednesday shows that a majority of use-of-force incidents weren’t captured by Denver police officers who are piloting use of the technology.

There were a host of reasons for officers failing to turn on the body worn cameras (BWCs) in violation of Denver Police Department policy. According to an independent police monitor’s report, which surveyed the six months ending in December, only 26 percent of the use-of-force incidents in the studied policing district were captured on video.

If officers can disable their body cameras without consequence then any benefits of mandating body cameras, at least as far as the people are concerned, go out the window. Unless officers are punished, and by that I mean charged with a crime, for disabling their body cameras while on duty the only purpose those fancy devices will serve is to collect evidence to prosecute people.

Body cameras along won’t hold officers accountable. There also needs to be policies that will result in officer being fired, fined, and opened up to lawsuits if they disabled their cameras. I believe arguments could even be made for jailing an officer who disables his body camera during a use of force incident (in which case I would argue that doing so would effectively be an admittance of guilt in a court hearing unless evidence of non-officer related failure could be shown).