A very compelling article from the New York Times is worth a close read. It details some of the dizzying array of problems that may arise with the bulk collection, retention, and distribution of body camera video by police agencies.
At first blush it seems that the bodycam can be a great tool to foster greater transparency and police accountability. But as the saying goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
And I’m not talking just about the mundane financial costs of the installation, training, and maintenance of the devices themselves. As this article so clearly articulates, there are other, hidden costs. What is the financial costs associated with staffing governmental agencies to deal with responding to the requests for these videos? What systems need to be implemented to deal with the redaction of sensitive information (if any) from the videos? And also, what is the ultimate cost to privacy?
If you are subject to a routine police stop, let’s say for speeding, who is entitled to a copy of the video of that encounter? What if no arrest was made, but say an officer was simply responding to a person in emotional distress? Who is allowed a copy of that video, which perhaps documents someone at a very low and vulnerable time in their life. And once the copy is obtained, what are the limits of its distribution? Should they be allowed to be posted up on YouTube?
Ultimately, the mass use of police body cameras, now being hailed as the next great innovation in law enforcement, can create just as many issues as they solve.