Should Police Officers Wear Body Cameras? The Mike Brown Law


On 9 August the unarmed, afro-american 18-year-old boy, Michael Brown, was shot and killed by a 28-year-old caucasian police officer, Darren Wilson, in a working-class neighborhood in Ferguson, Mo. The shooting happened after police officer Wilson stopped Brown because he was jaywalking. Unfortunately both the police and the eyewitnesses tell a different story about what happened that evening. Eyewitnesses saw that Brown was shot while he trying to surrender but police officer Darren Wilson stated that Brown assaulted him just before the shooting. The FBI has opened an investigation. 3 Autopsies have been performed. According to an independent preliminary autopsy, Brown was killed by at least 6 bullets which all came from Wilson's gun.

The shooting has provoked intense racially charged protests and riots. In some occasions police officers used fire rubber bullets and tear gas on participants. The feelings of fear, anger, injustice, racial mistrust in the criminal justice system are clearly visible when one looks at footage portraying the situation in Ferguson in the last few days.  The shooting of Michael Brown has led to worldwide discussions about  race relations, segregation, and the use of force by the police in the United States of America.

How should police officers deal with violence when they are at work? When should the police refrain from using force and when is the use of force justified and proportional? And how can a tragedy similar to the shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown be prevented in the future? 

In order to prevent such situations, many suggest the use of body cameras on police officers during their work.  Hundreds of law enforcement agencies in the USA now use cameras while on duty.

On August 13 a petition was created to bring into existence a law which makes the wearing of a camera on state, county and local police officers obligatory for all police officers. The use of cameras could provide objective evidence, prevent police misconduct, ensure the following of procedure and provide the criminal justice system with camera footage to facilitate further research during a police investigation.

The petition has surpassed 100,000 signatures. This is the minimum threshold that is needed for a response from the Obama administration. The people of the USA petition the Obama Administration to:

"Create a bill, sign into law, and set aside funds to require all state,county, and local police, to wear a camera. Due to the latest accounts of deadly encounters with police, We the People, petition for the Mike Brown Law. Create a bill, sign into law, and set aside funds to require all state,county, and local police, to wear a camera.The law shall be made in an effort to not only detour police misconduct(i.e. brutality, profiling, abuse of power), but to ensure that all police are following procedure, and to remove all question, from normally questionable police encounters. As well, as help to hold all parties within a police investigation, accountable for their actions."

Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, is of the opinion that the use of cameras by police officers could also help to take away the mistrust between citizens and police officers.

In Rialto, California, a police force has been equipped with body-mounted cameras since February 2012. The camera, which looks a bit like a pager, records everything while the police officer is contact with citizens. The use of these cameras has significantly lowered the use of force by officers. After the first year of wearing cameras, the use of force by the police was lowered with 60 %. The filing of citizen complaints against the police declined significantly with 88%.

In the words of Rialto's police chief ,Tony Farrar, "When you know you're being watched you behave a little better. That's just human nature, [...] As an officer you act a bit more professional, follow the rules a bit better."

Unfortunately, the wearing of body-mounted cameras also has some negative aspects.  The privacy of civilians could be at stake when they are recorded by a camera.  Therefore, the use of these cameras asks for strong privacy policies in order to ensure that the benefits of the technology are not outweighed by the invasion of people's privacy.

In conclusion, the use of body-mounted cameras by police officers is a promising an encouraging development. Its nation-, and worldwide use could have a tremendous positive impact on the criminal justice system and the protection of civil rights. The use of cameras could be of crucial importance when other objective evidence is not available.