Rhetoric 12: Thesis
November 7, 2018
Ever since the Ferguson incident, when an unarmed African American man was shot by a police officer, the issue has been raised that body cameras should be used by officers to record what an officer faces every day and how they handle a situation. “By 2015, 95 percent of large police departments reported they were using body cameras or had committed to do so in the near future” (New York Times). A body camera is a small recording device that can be placed anywhere on the body and record up to 16 hours of footage. Body cameras provide us the chance to see what an officer sees when they are faced with a life or death decision. This paper argues in favor of body cameras. The objective is to show that cameras are reliable, easily accessible, favorable, and are impacting the law enforcement community.
“Any officer who is doing the right thing on a daily basis would want to have a camera on them” (Commander Chris Peters, Parker Police Department).
On August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, a young African American man named Michael Brown was walking with a friend down his neighborhood street when a police officer on patrol intercepted them after receiving a call about a robbery that took place nearby. The situation led up to the officer shooting unarmed Michael Brown who would eventually pass away from his wounds. The police officer had no body camera. This event led to revolts and protests around the world against police officer and how they handle situations. Tom Jackson, the Police Chief of Ferguson, Missouri said, “Body cameras would have made a difference in the investigation of Brown’s shooting.” President Barrack Obama responded by issuing a plead for officers to use body worn cameras on December 2, 2014. Saying, “This is not a problem just of Ferguson, Missouri. This is a national problem.” After his response, it was granted that some police stations would be provided with cameras and training from the government. Recently on the news, we have seen how video evidence provides us the inside story. Unfortunately, not all officers have the privilege of owning a body camera. Body cameras must be provided to all officers serving in our community so that they can wear the cameras and help provide a safer environment.
Body cameras have been shown to provide solid evidence in defending or prosecuting. Body cameras allow the jury to view the entire story without their being any tampering of the evidence. A body camera can help prove both sides of the story. Some citizens though, believe that a body camera is an invasion to their personal privacy and can reveal their everyday lives. Body cameras also come with a high price. But, body cameras are vital in the police force.
The recent events that have been televised show the urgency on the matter. School shootings, suicide attacks, and terror threats are real. Police officers all need to have body cameras for four reasons: Body cameras provide truthful evidence in juridical cases, Body cameras reduce crime rate, Body cameras are better than other recording devices, and body camera footage can be used for training purposes for officers.
The first reason why Officers should have body cameras is body cameras can provide truthful evidence in judicial cases. When an officer turns their camera on they are recording everything. The cameras record every movement, every word, and every action that a cop or a citizen does. Before body cameras, juries had to go off evidence or an eye witnesses account of what happened. The problem with this is that evidence can be tampered with or the eye witnesses will lie. The body cameras hold everyone accountable for what everyone does. On October 20, 2014 a New Mexico police officer was arresting a woman who was convicted of drinking under the influence. After being apprehend, the woman told the police that she was sexually assaulted by the officer and wanted to file against him. The officer on call who had a police body camera on showed the footage that revealed that her account was not truthful and that he handled the situation in an orderly process. Without the body camera, the officer could have been facing serious years in prison for something he never did. Another example is the reaction of a couple who lost their two-month-old. An officer recorded the incident of trying to rescue the baby girl. After declaring she was dead, the officer then went to tell the parents who had different reactions. The mother was seen grieving and screaming while the father was saying, “Oh my god.” During trial, the officer pointed out that the reaction from the father was not as real. The jury using the camera evidence, concluded that the father was guilty. The father was convicted of killing the baby girl and was sentenced. Body cameras give the jury the upper hand of knowing that the footage is truthful and not tampered with. With this knowledge, they can decide the verdicts better.
The second reason why officers should have body cameras is that body cameras are being proven to help reduce crime rate. A police officer officers’ oath is to help serve his or her community to the best of their ability and to protect it. Police officers risk their lives every day. From the year 2014 to 2018 more than 715 police officers have been killed in the line of duty (Officer Down Memorial Page). We need better safety for our officers and body cameras have shown reduction in crime. Rory Caroll who is a reporter for The Guardian, a news station in California published an article entitled, “California police use of body cameras cuts violence and complaints.” Carroll’s report was based off the study in 2012 in Rialto, California, where officers were given cameras to see if cameras play a vital role in the community. The evidence gathered in Rialto, showed that, “Public complaints plunged 88% and officers use of force fell by 60%.” Cambridge University also did a study to investigate if body cameras proved to be affective against crime. The study was tested with officers in the UK and in the California coast. Cambridge University found that before the test the officers they were observing received a grand total of 1,539 complaints before using the cameras. This was about, “1.2 complaints per officer.” After the test, the number dropped from 1,539 to 113. The number of complaints per officer was 0.08. The drop of complaints plummeted 93%. Another experiment was done in Florida. Students at a university had officers at the Orlando Police Department wear the cameras and the others to not. The students picked out 46 to wear the cameras as compared to 43 who did not. The test took over a year, but the study showed that, “Use-of-force incidents dropped 53 percent with officers with the cameras and 65 percent decline against civilian complaints.” “When you know you are being watched you behave a little better” (Tony Farrar, Rialtos Police Chief).
The third reason police officers should be required to wear body cameras is that they are better than other police recording devices, easy to carry, and use. Before cameras became popular in the law enforcement community, officers could record footage with their car dashcams. The car cameras though only provided one angle for viewing. For example, an officer pulls someone over due to drunk driving. The officer’s car camera records the officer getting out of his car and walking over to driver’s vehicle. As the officer leans over to receive the driver’s identification the officer sees the driver reaching for something down the side of his car. The driver jolts up quickly and is met with bullets from the officer. The officer reports that the driver was reaching for a gun, but the evidence from the officer’s vehicle only shows the officer shooting the driver. If an officer had a camera on they could record the interaction with the driver and record everything they were observing. Police body cameras are portable and reliable. Companies like Safety Vision who make body cameras for officers, design cameras that are, “Fitted with a microphone and LCD screen for instant review.” The cameras also, “Can record high-quality video even in low lighting conditions such as night or a dark vehicle interior.” Police officers also must carry more than 20 pounds of tactical gear. Cameras though are light weight and compatible. When an officer feels the need for a situation to be recorded they can press the recording button and record. This also makes it easier for review in court cases so that the examiner can take the Sd card out of the camera and find exactly the video.
The fourth reason body cameras should be used is that the video evidence recorded can be used for training purposes. The footage recorded can give rising officers an inside look into how the real police world operates. Footage of simple speeding pullovers or shootouts can be broken down and shown what to do in a step by step way. If a citizen is worried that an officer is not trained enough, having the video evidence can greatly increase the training. Having video footage can also be used to help train the officers who use the cameras. If an officer is uncertain of how a situation was handled the video evidence can be projected and the officer can be shown how to handle the event if it happens next time. Zach Reed, Cleveland’s councilman argues that the cameras, “wouldn’t only encourage officers to act lawfully, but also show how a majority of police officers are doing their job properly every single day.”
Some might argue that police body cameras should not be used. They could argue that body cameras invade the privacy of the citizens. They can argue that when a police officer turns their camera on, they are recording the life of the citizens. If a police officer must raid a drug dealers house and records the raid, they are also recording the inside of the house and everything in it. If there is a family, the cameras could be invading their privacy. The cameras are showing everything which can be very embarrassing. This argument though is invalid.
Even though the cameras record everything, the cameras must be used. Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic writes, “Members of the public who appear in body camera footage can request that it be sealed in certain cases-if they are a crime victim or witness, for example- but if no civilian in a video objects, then any members of the press or public can at least view it.” If Conors solution can be used, then a lot less anger and hatred will happen. The situations we see on the news against police officers are a majority out of hate. Even though some might think that cameras are an invasion to privacy, the percentages of the success when using body cameras are high.
Another reason some might argue against the use of body cameras is that the cameras take hours to sort the footage out. Recently, THE VIRGINIA GAZETTE published an article entitled, “Body camera plusses come with a cost.” The article written by Steve Roberts explains how prosecutors spend hours and hours going through video evidence from the cameras. Steve Roberts says that last year,” Prosecutors watched more than 5,261 body camera videos-2,400 hours of video.” Some could argue that Prosecutors spend all their time going through footage of evidence that might not even do anything. But, the evidence and prosecutors’ job are critical.
Williamsburg’s criminal defense attorney Brandon Waltrip says that the footage,” Allows a defendant to see the exact evidence that the commonwealth may have against them.” Even though a prosecutor must spend hours to review footage, in the long wrong the time is worth it. Maj. Greg Riley Williamsburg’s Police Department spokesman says, “You hear stories all the time about police departments or officers doing bad things. The more we can do to show that’s not the Williamsburg Police Department or the James City County Police Department, the better. The body cameras show what an officer did so that people don’t need to trust that the officer took it down correctly.”
Even though there is evidence to prove why body cameras should not be used, the cameras are highly informative and useful. The officers of today need cameras to hold them and the people they are talking to accountable, show us what officers face every day, and provide the full evidence and story.
Police officers must use body cameras when they face a situation that they determine must be recorded. The cameras provide truthful evidence in juridical cases, Body cameras reduce crime rate, Body cameras are better than other recording devices, and body camera footage can be used for training purposes for officers.
This argument matters to everyone. We must realize that the cameras officers use is affective. Our country needs to provide the cameras to the stations for free so that all officers can record. Having stations pay over 1,300 dollars each for a camera is not acceptable. The camera statistics show the power of the camera. If all officers have cameras the percentage of crime I believe will go down tremendously. We live in a fallen world full of sin. Officers make mistakes every day. The cameras show the mistakes of the officers and the citizens, but the more accountability the better our country will grow. I believe the cameras will accomplish this goal.