Police Body Cameras: Would They Provide Easy Answers?

    Publisher's note: This post, by Angela Hight, was originally published in the crime section of Civitas's online edition.

    Police shootings of suspects in St. Paul and Baton Rouge dominated news headlines the past few weeks. Most commentators instantly formed opinions based on videos posted online. The social media mob mentality has taken hold, and the media as well as certain protest groups have spun their own narrative from the videos posted. The police officers were branded racist murderers before an investigation ever launched. Such mob mentality arguably contributed to the tragic shooting of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

    Consequently, there has been a lot of talk about police body camera legislation in the hopes that video footage will give us an accurate, unbiased picture of what happened. But will law enforcement recordings actually answer all the questions surrounding criminal investigations like these?

    Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB 972 into law recently, a bill that essentially states that recordings made by law enforcement are not public records. Elected officials believe that it is best to keep these recordings out the public eye.

    Most everyone has formed varying opinions on the videos of the recent shootings and how they should be interpreted. While many believe police recordings should indeed be made a public record; with the exceptions of instances when a criminal investigation is pending, a minor involved, or certain police tactics used; questions will still remain about what really happened in many of the situations in which law enforcement find themselves.

    One amateur video will sometimes distort, rather than clarify, the picture if it is released too quickly and without context. Also, if a video is held onto for too long, it is easy to question the relativity to the case. In both of these instances, this is extremely unfair to our law enforcement officers and other parties involved.

    However, having an official video from the police officer to counter balance the videos on social media would allow a more comprehensive look into these questionable and controversial situations.

    Moreover, body cameras should be a tool to make law enforcement more transparent and accountable to the communities they serve. HB 972, however, will make it nearly impossible to achieve those goals.

    I once had a boss tell me that there are three sides to every story: his, hers, and the truth. Videos recorded by bystanders give just one perspective and often no context. Supplementing that with body camera footage could provide vital information and context.

    But would a body camera actually tell us everything that happened in these type of cases? Would the video answer every question that we would have? Would they really solve what happened in the United States in the past few weeks? There is no way to know for sure, short of actually having and seeing the footage.

    Greater transparency is a good thing, and police body camera footage could be a useful tool to increase transparency. But on the other hand, we shouldn't expect such cameras to consistently provide easy answers.

    What do you think?

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