Last week, when President Obama addressed the nation following a grand jury decision to not prosecute Darren Wilson, the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, he seemed to bite his tongue and left a lot of things unsaid. On Monday, however, the president proposed a landmark three-year, $263 million spending package, part of which is designed to put body cameras on 50,000 cops.
The move is designed to increase transparency and hold law enforcement officials responsible for their actions. The Associated Press reports that the package was put together by the White House following a three-month review of law enforcement practices, and will “expand training for law enforcement and add more resources for police department reform.” About $75 million will be allocated to help pay for “small, lapel-mounted cameras to record police on the job.”
Support for body cameras grew out of racially charged frustration with law enforcement, particularly in the wake of the shooting deaths of John Crawford III in Ohio, Michael Brown in Ferguson, and most recently, 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, who was shot by police at a playground while holding a BB gun.
And yet, the efficacy of always-on, data-gobbling body cameras has been called into question. One concern is that police officers can still toggle them on and off—unless policies are written to demand otherwise—thereby hiding evidence if they should become trigger-happy or overly aggressive.
A report from the Justice Department, on the other hand, has revealed considerable evidence that both civilians and law enforcement behave better when cameras are present. “Body-worn cameras can help improve the high-quality public service expected of police officers and promote the perceived legitimacy and sense of procedural justice that communities have about their police departments,” the report notes. [PDF] “Furthermore, departments that are already deploying body-worn cameras tell us that the presence of cameras often improves the performance of officers as well as the conduct of the community members who are recorded. This is an important advance in policing.”