Published on Mar 25, 2014
Civilians shoot and upload police encounters to the Internet everyday using tiny cameras on their cell phones and other mobile devices. In fact it may be easier than ever to keep the police accountable with the technology we all carry around in our pockets. But police are looking to keep civilians accountable too by wearing cameras of their own. Reason TV sat down with former Seattle Police officer Steve Ward, who left the force to start Vievu, a company that makes body cameras for police officers.
“Everyone behaves better when they’re on video,” says Ward. “I realized that dash cams only capture about five percent of what a cop does. And I wanted to catch 100 percent of what a cop does.”
The cameras are small, light, and clip to the clothing of a police officer’s uniform. They turn on with a large switch on the front of the camera and have a green circle that surrounds the lens so that civilians know that the camera is recording.
But once the data is recorded, what stops an officer from editing or manipulating the video? Ward says his cameras contain software that stops officers from doing anything nefarious with it, “Our software platform stops officers from altering, deleting, copying, editing, uploading to YouTube, any of the videos that the cops take.”
While body cameras present the strong benefit of keeping police accountable, they also present a risk of invading civilians’ privacy. But in a policy brief from October 2013, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that depending on how the body cameras were implemented, the privacy concerns could be dealt with.
Although we generally take a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers. Historically, there was no documentary evidence of most encounters between police officers and the public, and due to the volatile nature of those encounters, this often resulted in radically divergent accounts of incidents. Cameras have the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police against false accusations of abuse.
In 2013, The New York Times reported that the city of Rialto, Calif., was able to cut down on complaints against officers by 88 percent over the previous year when it gave its officers body cameras. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent.
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