Editorial: Iowa City police should use body cameras


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From the LA riots of 1992 after the Rodney King verdict to the Ferguson, Missouri, protests after the slaying of Michael Brown, the American public has repeatedly demanded police accountability.

Recently, these demands have changed from vague policy changes to feasible goals, especially in Iowa City.

The Iowa City police plan to acquire body cameras for all officers out on patrol by the end of the year. They currently only have a dozen for a select few.

“Right now, officers going out with vehicles aren’t taking the cameras; if they’re out walking, they might have them,” police Sgt. Jorey Bailey said.

Body cameras are small cameras that can be mounted on the chests of police officers. They constantly record both video and audio while police officers are on duty.

Getting these cameras isn’t cheap. Bailey said the acquisition is still being considered, and it could cost anywhere from $200,000 to $600,000. But the benefit they bring in terms of accountability is intangible.

A whitehouse.gov petition created on Aug. 13 calls for “all state, county, and local police” to wear body cameras. This petition is a public response to the recent situation in Ferguson, in which unarmed Michael Brown was shot at least six times. While details surrounding the encounter are still murky, Brown is only one of many unarmed victims of police over the years. In 2012, 18-year-old Gil Collar was naked when he was shot by a University of South Alabama police officer outside police headquarters. Now, there may finally be a way to stop these abuses of power.

The Brown petition proposes that requiring all officers to wear body cameras would reduce police misconduct (i.e., brutality, profiling, and abuse of power) as well as ensure that officers follow appropriate procedures. Officers would be held accountable for anything they do while on duty.

While this certainly would be a costly law to enforce, its effectiveness could be unprecedented. In Rialto, California, complaints against the police dropped 88 percent after one year of mandatory use of body cameras by on-duty officers, according to the New York Times.

Police officers wearing body cameras would operate under the knowledge that every action they perform could be scrutinized in the event of a complaint. Even if a police department covers up an officer’s misconduct, an investigation would be able to hold the department responsible for producing the relevant footage.

One criticism of a body camera mandate is the idea that always-on cameras would be an invasion of privacy. There are concerns that police officers would record footage that some citizens would not consent to having recorded. If an officer arrived on the scene of a domestic dispute or private residence and entered, the private residence would be subject to recording.

This doesn’t present an issue, however. The legal ramifications surrounding warrants and Fourth Amendment rights would still apply. In fact, body cameras could decrease the rates of Fourth Amendment violations. A common accusation is that officers falsify reasons for searches without actually having a reasonable suspicion. With body cameras, police officers would be unable to lie their way into unconstitutional searches of private residences.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes mandatory use of body cameras on a local and national scale could reduce police misconduct. Injustices like those against King, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Collar, and Brown would drop significantly, and appropriate judicial action against those that perpetrate them will increase. While Iowa City has not seen high-profile cases such as those, it’s always a good idea to improve police accountability.

The police are meant to serve and protect the citizens of the nation. The use of body cameras will ensure that remains true. They will provide a means for the public to check the power of police without sacrificing their inviolability.

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