EDITORIAL: Body cameras are fine, but avoid the hype

The recent situations involving police and unarmed civilians has caused the call to go out to require police officers to wear body cameras. If local law enforcement is any indication, we may see deputies and police officers wearing cameras pretty soon. It is interesting to note that the Fort Valley Police Department has been using cameras for two years. Departments have to be careful not to fall into a marketing trap that camera manufacturers are setting by capitalizing on the heat of the moment or the desire to snatch some of the $75 million President Barack Obama is asking for to supply 50,000 cameras to departments around the country.

Fort Valley has found citizen complaints have dropped like a rock since it started using body cameras. That experience mirrors a study done by the University of Cambridge on the Rialto, California, police department where citizen complaints dropped by 88 percent and use of force incidents dropped by 60 percent, according to The New York Times.

The chief of the 66 member Rialto department, William Farrar, told the Times, “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better.”

If all the cameras do is drop the number of police complaints, they could pay for themselves. Law enforcement departments spend untold hours investigating complaints by citizens. But the rush is on now because of recent incidents, and cameras won’t solve the dynamic we’ve seen at play in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Cleveland, South Carolina and elsewhere as far back as 1991, when Los Angeles officers were filmed beating Rodney King.

Cameras do present departments with all sorts of policy issues, and officers have been fired for not following the camera policies of their departments. But cameras also mean a significant investment, not only for the hardware and software but maintenance of the cameras. Can departments afford to expand their IT departments to handle the inherent glitches technology presents? Where do you safely and securely hold, and for how long, hundreds of gigabytes of data?

We will find answers to those questions soon enough.