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Police Body Cameras Make Sense From Both Sides of the Debate


With racial tensions the highest they've been a long time, particularly regarding the police, it only makes sense to look for a solution that would benefit both sides.

Police body camera. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

It's no secret that racial tension in the United States is as high as it has been in a long time.

According to Gallup, the percentage that consider race relations to be "very good" or "somewhat good" has fallen from 72 percent in 2013 to 45 percent in 2015 for whites and from 66 percent to 51 percent for blacks. That is an absolutely massive drop in only two short years.

Punctuating this tension has been a series of high profile police shootings that have divided public opinion. On one side you have movements like Black Lives Matter claiming that racist cops are targeting innocent black males and on the other side you have people saying that cops are being slandered and that this has even lead to the police pulling back in certain neighborhoods which has caused an increase in crime; the controversial, so-called "Ferguson Effect."

Police body camera. Photo Credit: Shutterstock Police body camera. Photo Credit: Shutterstock 

Regarding such a politiziced and sensitive topic, it would seem that any solution that could bridge the aisle should be sought after. And it would seem to this humble author that police body cameras would be such a solution. Yes, such cameras are not free, but then again, neither are the long court cases and media circuses that surround these high profile shootings.

For example, the shooting of Michael Brown by officer Darren Wilson lead to a massive amount of television coverage, protests, riots and the like. Yet, when the dust finally settled, the mass of evidence, including the testimony of many black witnesses, exonerated Wilson. Even Eric Holder's Department of Justice came to that conclusion.

How much unneccessary racial tension could have been avoided had Ferguson's police department simply had a video of the incident to release right from the get go? It certainly would have been better for the city of Ferguson which endured a riot and saw property values drop by two thirds since the shooting.

On the other hand, what happened when Walter Scott was shot while running away from officer Michael Slager could have been clouded in obscurity had it not been for a passerby with a cellphone camera that conclusively showed it was not self defense.

Of course, video doesn't clear up everything. It's not a panacea. There was video of Eric Garner's death and that didn't lead to an indictment. And while there were some mitigating circumstances (namely Garner's health and the officer's intenet) it would seem that there certainly should have been some sort of charge.

That being said, despite being in only limited use, body cameras have already cleared an officer in Cleveland after a shooting and another in Albuquerque of a fraudulent sexual assault charge. On the other side of the equation, a body camera showed an officer in Denver used excessive force.

And it goes beyond examples as well. A study published by the Journal of Quantitative Criminology, "randomly-assigned officers to 'experimental-shifts' during which they were equipped with body-worn HD cameras that recorded all contacts with the public and to 'control-shifts' without the cameras." The results of that study were as follows:

"We found that the likelihood of force being used in control conditions were roughly twice those in experimental conditions. Similarly, a pre/post analysis of use-of-force and complaints data also support this result: the number of complaints filed against officers dropped from 0.7 complaints per 1,000 contacts to 0.07 per 1,000 contacts."

In other words, both the use of force and the complaints filed against police officers fell dramatically just by introducing a body camera.

It's not all or nothing. Some police officers are wrongfully accused, but some go too far. And body cameras can help sort this out. Which is likely why they receive almost universal, bipartisan support amongst the public.

Yet they are still not in widespread use. A survey from 2013 found that 75 percent of police departemnts did not use body cameras and an analysis of 27 major cities found that only two-Albuguerque and New Orleans-have "finished equipping their officers with body cameras."

Nothing happens overnight, of course, but again this appears to be one of the few solutions put forth these days that would actually benefit both sides of the debate. It's one of the rare win/win solutions out there. We should embrace it.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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