Should Police Officers be Required to Wear Cameras?

The issue of and controversy over police activity being captured on footage is not a new one. What is relatively new, however, is the discussion over whether or not police officers themselves should have to wear video cameras on their uniforms, not just mount cameras on the dashboard of their vehicles.
Incidents such as the vicious beating of Rodney King in 1991 (taped by onlookers much to the chagrin of the officers involved) and the apparently unprovoked and unjustified killing of Michael Brown by a police officer earlier this month have reignited the conversation. As our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers know, while law enforcement officers might think it’s unnecessary, hordes of civilians argue that it will ensure accountability in a field where there’s largely none.

Case in point: the most pressing questions swirling around the murder of Michael Brown by a Missouri police officer seem to have no definitive answers. It might very well have come down to an issue of he-said, he-said, were it not for the fact that one of the two people involved in the incident is now dead, having left behind a family and a nation demanding answers.

Why did Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson fatally shoot Michael Brown, leaving him to lay dead in the street? More specifically, what happened just before the shooting? Did Michael Brown really try to grab the officer’s firearm? Did the officer question Michael Brown about the cigars that Brown is alleged to have stolen just before his murder? Was there a fight? Did Brown hold his hands up and ask the officer not to shoot?

We want answers to all of these questions, but that nobody can or is willing to provide them. Had someone been standing close enough to film the encounter, we might have some objective evidence with which to answer some of these questions. Unfortunately, there is no such footage. Moreover, Officer Wilson did not have a camera affixed to his uniform, nor was the so-called “dash cam” on his patrol car facing the action.

Our Palm Beach and Broward County criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert know that if police officers were to be required to wear lapel cameras or sunglass-mounted cameras, as they are in many localities around the country, both sides of the police-civilian encounters would benefit.

Police officers would benefit from wearing cameras because bogus allegations of use of force and intimidation would be discredited easily; if there was use of force and/or illegal intimidation, it would be shown on camera. If there wasn’t, it wouldn’t be. There would be little need for lengthy trials and unwarranted character defaming if the answer could be arrived at just by viewing a simple tape. Moreover, police officers argue that when citizens know they’re being filmed, they’re likely to improve their behavior in encounters with police officers, knowing that they won’t be able to misbehave and then say they didn’t.

To the civilians (and families of civilians) who have run-ins with police officers, the benefits are two-fold: First, the police officer would know that he/she is being filmed (due to the required camera on their uniform) and they’d therefore act accordingly; they would likely avoid using unjustified force for fear of having to face a jury armed with the footage from the camera. Second, if police officers did act with unjustifiable force, the civilian victims and their families would be far better able to take legal recourse against the officer and the local police department, thanks to the footage that would be guaranteed to exist (thanks to the required camera).

This is not simply theoretical. Take Rialto, California, for example: last year, the town’s police officers were required to start wearing cameras. Just one year later, complaints filed against the police officers dropped an astounding 88 percent, while so-called “use of force” dwindled by 59 percent. The Police Chief there acknowledges the success of the camera, and has added that when citizens know that the police are wearing a camera, they’re more likely to behave better because they, too, know they’re being filmed.

Our criminal defense lawyers know that this is not a simple, clear-cut issue. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the issue. Moreover, if you’ve been arrested in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County and you believe that you were mistreated during the encounter with the police officer(s), contact our criminal defense lawyers to schedule a free consultation. You can reach us by calling 1-888-5-DEFEND (1-888-533-3363).

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