Will On-Body Police Cameras Increase Police Accountability and Decrease Brutality?

The police will soon have some high tech methods to gather evidence. Taser International, best known for their Taser electroshock weapon, is currently testing a new product, the Axon Flex camera system. According to the company, Axon Flex will revolutionize the way policing is done.

The idea behind the system is this: A camera small enough to be clipped to a cap or eye-wear with a control unit worn inside the police uniform is issued to an officer. The unit can operate for 12 hours continuously but only start recording when the officer hits a button on the control unit. Then the unit records the previous 30 seconds of video and then does a full audio/video recording. But will giving the police another way of recording their actions help citizens or just the police?

Attempting to keep the police accountable through video recording is not a new idea. Dashboard cameras are already standard issue for many police departments and often can capture shocking displays of police brutality. However such measures only work as long as police do not tamper with such cameras. And when police officers have to pursue on foot, the dash cam cannot follow them, leaving a large blind spot.

To combat this and keep the police accountable, private citizens have started to record the police. This can often lead to public outrage over clear incidents of police brutality. However many police departments attempt to intimidate those who would record them. Although the court system has ruled that laws that make recording the police illegal are unconstitutional, police officers often engage in the practice anyway.

The Axon Flex is supposed to be a solution to these problems. It would allow for video footage away from the car and that comes from the officer and not a third party. Such a system would allow police departments to get a clear picture of what happens when it is just a suspect and an officer. A visit to the product’s website sees one of the benefits they promote as "protection every officer deserves."

They also tout the products ability to reduce false complaints and lawsuits. When it comes to monitoring police the only mention is a vague "improves behavior of all parties during police interactions."

This shows a great fault with such on-body camera systems. The Axon Flex system uploads its video to Evidence.com, where police can review the footage. What happens when a private citizen or journalist wants to view that footage? The answer is that it suddenly gets very difficult. An NPR story reported on the difficulty of viewing police videos. Although considered a public record, they in practice are difficult to obtain due to them being part of an investigation or privacy concerns.

The final flaw in these systems is that their cutting edge nature means that police departments have yet to develop universal policies for them. Should an officer start recording every time he steps out of his vehicle? Or only in “serious” situations? Does an individual officer have access to his footage or just higher level administrators? What exactly is the policy for people who are not police to view this footage? These and many other crucial questions will have to be answered if this technology is to be used for the benefit of all and not just the police. In the meantime I would recommend you keep you smartphone camera handy if you want to keep the police accountable.

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Gabriel Rodriguez

Gabriel Rodriguez is currently studying for a Masters in Applied Economics at Georgetown. He is a graduate of New College of Florida with a degree in Economics. He is interested in econometrics, statistical analysis, behavioral economics, and developmental economics.

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