POLITICS

Police Body Cameras Seen As A Fix For Ferguson-Style Killings

WASHINGTON -- Michael Brown's family did not just decry a grand jury's decision to bring no charges against the police officer who killed the 18-year-old on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. They also offered a solution -- require all police to wear cameras on their bodies.

“While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen," the Brown family said in a statement Monday night.

“Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera," they said.

It's an idea that has gained momentum since police Officer Darren Wilson gunned down Michael Brown Jr. in August, with witnesses offering differing accounts of what happened. Ferguson police started using the cameras shortly after the killing, and departments across the country have been trying them out, including Dallas and New York City. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) called for deploying the cameras broadly, as well.

The cameras, which can be worn on sunglasses or clipped to a shirt, have won the backing of both civil libertarians and police groups. Civil liberties advocates argue that video records prevent cops from abusing their authority, while law enforcement groups note that a person cannot falsely accuse an officer if their encounter is recorded.

A recent study commissioned by the Police Foundation, an organization devoted to law enforcement research, found that the devices dramatically lowered complaints of police abuse.

In the study, about half the police force in Rialto, California, wore cameras during patrols for a year. At the end, there were just three complaints of excessive force against the officers -- down from 28 in the previous 12 months.

"The findings suggest more than a 50 percent reduction in the total number of incidents of use-of-force compared to control-conditions, and nearly 10 times more citizens' complaints in the 12-months prior to the experiment," the report said.

Other experts, including those at the Department of Justice, have reached similar conclusions.

Use of the cameras does have downsides, however. There are no across-the-board standards for how and when the devices should be used, or for how the footage created should be used. It is possible for police to tamper with the recordings, or to simply refuse to turn on the cameras. A recent investigation by the Times-Picayune in New Orleans found cameras often were not used when they should have been.

Privacy advocates have also raised concerns, noting that storing such videos is open to potential abuse, with the possibility of potentially embarrassing encounters winding up on the Internet. The technology also may eventually be paired with other investigative tools, such as facial recognition software, opening up the chance for even greater surveillance of law-abiding citizens.

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