Will Police Body Cameras Prevent Another Ferguson?


Tampa’s police officers are set to begin using body cameras in the near future. The cameras are intended to record their interactions with the public, including arrests and any use of force. Will the use of these cameras prevent cases of police brutality? Would a police body camera have prevented the tragedy in Ferguson from ever happening?

Even the President has called for federal funding to supply body cameras to police departments. Supporters of police body cameras hope that their use will deter unnecessary police violence, and give an unbiased recording of the interactions between police and the public. The ACLU has come out in favor of police body cameras, in the hopes that they will serve as a check against police officers’ potential abuse of power.

But will they work?

Possibly, as long as safeguards are in place.

First, officers shouldn’t be able to edit or modify the videos. Allowing that would obviously raise problems with using the videos in court in a criminal prosecution, and would let officers edit out footage unfavorable to their version of events.

Second, the cameras should record both audio and video. Officers shouldn’t be able to turn off either feature.

Third, the recording should be set to start recording at least 30 seconds before the officer chooses to record. Dash cameras already work this way, and are triggered when the car’s lights are activated. This will help ensure that the whole scenario is captured. In many criminal cases the circumstances leading up to an arrest are just as important as what happened during the arrest itself.

Fourth, the police department should put in place strict policies regarding retention of the videos, including how long they will be kept. If the video does not become part of the evidence in a criminal or civil case, the video should be destroyed after a reasonable period of time.

Maybe police body cameras would not have prevented what happened in Ferguson, but I can’t help but think that they would have given us at least some finality on what actually happened.