This summer, after a civil suit challenged the New York City Police Department’s notorious program of patting down “suspicious” residents, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan imposed an experiment in which cops in precincts with the highest reported rates of stop-and-frisk activity would be required to wear video cameras for a year.
This is a really good idea.
Small cameras such as the AXON Flex from Taser International can attach to an officer’s sunglasses, hat, or uniform. Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.
In addition, research suggests that Judge Scheindlin has made the right call; requiring officers to wear video cameras will help protect citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
For example, a 2004 study in Criminology and Public Policy by criminologists Stephen Mastrofski from George Mason University and Jonathan Gould from American University evaluated direct observations of police searches in a medium-sized American city. They conservatively estimated that nearly one-third of police searches were performed unconstitutionally and almost none of those unconstitutional searches came to the attention of the courts.
Jay Stanley, a policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), calls police-worn video cameras “a win/win for both the public and the police.” Win/win because video recordings help shield officers from false accusations of abuse as well as protecting the public against police misconduct.
In order to make sure that both the public and police realize the greatest benefits from body-cams, however, a number of policies need to be implemented.