If you've followed the news at all in the past week and a half, you've seen the disturbing violence in Ferguson, Missouri. It all started with the shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old by a Ferguson police officer. The police department maintains that the shooting was justified, but witnesses claim the opposite.
The incident sparked a powder keg of violence, protests and days of conflict between law enforcement and outraged citizens. There's no way of knowing whether conclusive video evidence of what happened that fateful day would have changed how events unfolded, but there's a chance it could have defused the entire situation.
In the near future, Ferguson police will have video evidence every time.
Yesterday, Ferguson's police department announced it intends to outfit all its officers with personal video recording devices worn on their chests. Much like the dash cams mounted in almost every police cruiser, these cameras could provide definitive evidence of wrongdoing or innocence of both officer and citizen. But more than that, just the presence of these cameras could deescalate tensions between them.
Body cameras are worn by officers in several cities around the country already, and the results are impressive. Gizmodo reports:
Feedback from the field has been mostly positive so far. In the city of Rialto, which is near L.A., citizen complaints against cops dropped from 24 to three, and police reported that use-of-force incidents went from 61 to 25, according to the Wall Street Journal. Similar results were found in an eight-month study in Mesa, Arizona, where 50 cops wearing cameras received eight citizen complaints and the 50 without received 23 complaints. LAPD Sgt. Dan Gomez described a situation to the Daily News where just the act of seeing an officer wearing a camera seemed to immediately calm an antagonistic person. "All of a sudden, the whole thing started to de-escalate," he said. "They were able to deal with whatever the situation was, and no additional enforcement action was needed."
Already there's a big push to get this technology into the hands of every officer in the country. A petition on Change.org has collected more than 100,000 signatures demanding all police officers wear personal video recorders. The only obstacle is cost. Right now, these cameras are bulky and expensive, but with the added attention and a possible dramatic increase in the market for them, the costs could come down quickly.
I think this is a great step. We have the technology to make both citizens and officers safer. I'm a big proponent of keeping a dash cam in your car for the exact same reasons. Until the police in your town are wearing body cameras, you need to know your rights when videotaping them. Click here to find out your rights and responsibilities.
What do you think about Ferguson's decision to outfit police with cameras? Comment below.