Thursday, August 28, 2014

Preventing Another Ferguson Incident: The Body Camera!

A Denver Police officer tries out the miniature camera.

Could the upheaval and violence in Ferguson, MO all have been prevented or at least minimized? These are questions now being asked, and very often the response is 'Yes, it could!'  To understand why we note the observation in a recent TIME article ('The Tragedy of Ferguson', Sept. 1, p. 22) that:

"the heart of it all lay two or three minutes just after noon on Saturday, August 9, a fatal span that brought Brown and Wilson together on a stretch of Canfield Drive."

Meaning that within this time interval assorted people reported their separate observations of what transpired and the officer his own. Alas, no settled accounts of the time sequence or actual events exist. This could all have evidently been avoided. How?

Via the use of special miniaturized digital body cameras worn on the side frames of officers' glasses or sun glasses. The tiny cameras record every last detail in any encounter with the public for any reason, and hence provide a firm and accurate document of the officer's actions and the perp's responses or crimes. Basically, it is insurance to protect police from false allegations of excessive force, and also suspects from overly aggressive police actions. The body camera ensures literal, visible accountability. According to Denver Police Chief Robert White :

"The body camera will clear up those moments of conflict"

This was revealed in an NBC News spot last night which focused on the police force in Laurel, Maryland,  where officers have been authorized to use these cameras as a standard operating procedure for the past 18 months.  The result? Crime has dropped 46 percent and the police force has seen accountability for all arrests enhanced by virtue of everything being on record. (In a few cases, as noted in the Denver Post, p. 5A), "people making allegations against the police have withdrawn complaints when they learned their encounters were recorded.")

One instance shown in the Laurel, MD segment involved an officer stopping a speeding vehicle. The entire transaction was recorded including when the officer asked to see identification and the perp floored her accelerator and left the scene - soon later apprehended down the highway.

The benefits from this digital camera system are self-evident. It's no longer a case of the officer's word against anyone else's because he can always provide the evidence in the form of the digital recording. Did he really fire six times into a suspect's body? The camera won't lie and will record all the action from his perspective. If he fired, that will be shown, as well as any reactions by the suspect.

Thus, had Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson been outfitted with such a miniature camera - like the police in Laurel, MD - it is doubtful things would have gotten to the stage they did in Ferguson.  All the events would have been immediately accessible and there'd have been no "fatal span" of time within which witness accounts conflicted.

Clearly, these devices need to be dispensed throughout the U.S. to all police departments,  and I would say as a vastly higher priority than dispensing militarized gear like Humvees.

No comments: