EDITORIAL: Expand use of police body cams for accountability

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

The other day on Twitter, some reporters and editors were debating whether reporters should record all the conversations they have with their sources.

The argument in favor of using them all the time came down to two points— to protect reporters from being falsely accused of misquoting a source and to protect a source from being misquoted and then not being able to prove it.

Essentially, recordings remove much of the doubt from he-said-she-said situations.

The same arguments can be made for expanding the use of body cams by police.

Someone can falsely accuse a police officer of malfeasance or brutality, and without a recording, it’s the individual’s word against the cop’s. These days, a lot of citizens will automatically be inclined to doubt the cop without evidence to the contrary.

On the other side, a police officer can abuse his authority or brutalize a suspect, and if there’s not a tape to show the victim’s side, the cop might escape punishment or disciplinary action.

As with reporters’ conversations, a recording can determine who’s telling the truth.

So it’s in the best interests of Schenectady city residents and police that the city Police Department has received a $155,200 grant (which requires a 50% in-kind match from the city) to outfit more staff with cameras.

Right now, only officers, sergeants and lieutenants are required to use them. The grant will expand that to detectives, parking meter attendants and animal control officers.

If you’ve ever seen how belligerent someone can get when they get a parking ticket, you can see why these officers need a camera. And the owners of dangerous dogs will defend their pets to the death, even if the dog attacks someone.

The effectiveness of cameras isn’t just anecdotal.

A recent research paper by the University of Chicago Crime Lab and the Council on Criminal Justice’s Task Force on Policing concluded that while the equipment and storage of data can be costly, the cost is offset by a reduction in citizen complaints and averted use-of-force incidents, according to a National Public Radio report from April 2021.

The study estimated that the ratio of the value of the benefits compared to the cost of body-worn cameras at 5 to 1 and well above an estimated 2 to 1 cost-benefit of hiring more police, NPR reported.

Complaints against police dropped by 17% and the use of force by police, during fatal and non-fatal encounters, fell by nearly 10%, according to the report.

With more police outfitted with cameras, and more encounters with the public being recorded, police and the public are protected. When it comes to investment in law enforcement, body cameras are worth the price.

No doubt.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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