Free Research Paper On People As “Filmmakers:” Privacy Concerns
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Instances of inordinate use of force by police elements have generated a number of heated and fierce debates in American society. The tragic shootings of police elements of African American teenagers Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown as well as other instances of unconscionable use of force by police officers have triggered calls for increased transparency and accountability from elements of the police. “Body cams” are one of these policies, the argument being if the police officers know their movements are being monitored, this will dissuade them from considering committing instances of inordinate use of force. Nevertheless, these calls for police to wear body cams can also inflict serious invasion of privacy concerns that can also be deleterious to the interests of the public.
Thesis Statements: The use of police cameras offers both benefits and costs to the public.
The use of body cameras worn by police officers, or “cop cams,” is still held as having an overall beneficial effect to law enforcement efforts. For the police organization, the benefits include supporting efforts for accountability, gaining new methods at obtaining evidence, and chronicling on video incidents with the public as well as being able to document events being claimed against or by the police.
Police body cameras have made the operations of police agencies clearer to eyes of the public and have aided in the resolution of disputes after an incident between a police officer and a suspect or any member of the general public. Furthermore, the use of “body cams” has allowed the operations to be free of issues and permits agencies to immediately address internal issues in the system (Police Executive Research Forum 5).
“Body cams” are still in their pilot stages, but the technology used in these mechanisms has been long in the making. These technologies, such as the miniaturization of the components of the cameras and the swift depreciation in the cost of “online storage facilities” such as Google Glass and Dropcam have all had an impact on the use of these mechanisms. However, the advance in the technology in these technologies has sparked fierce debates regarding privacy rights, not only for the public but also for the police as well.
In addition to these issues, there is a lack of a national framework on the issues and instances that these mechanisms can be used. These substantive questions regarding the time when the police can use the machines and the policy of who should and should not be recorded are still being threshed out (Manjoo 1).
Proponents for higher levels of clarity in law enforcement are paying close attention to whether policies will be developed to require “body cams” as equipment for police officers. Advocates of these body worn camera units significantly contribute to the reduction of “excessive use of force” complaints against police units and personnel, the video footage from these units have proven to be valuable instruments for gathering evidence to address police malfeasance. Nevertheless, significant issues on possible “invasion of privacy” have arisen; in order for the initiative to be effective, and as these become increasingly common, these must be extensively addressed (Feeney 1).
In the opinion of Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs policy director James McMahan, the general perception is that the use of these mechanisms will help in facilitating transparency and answerability; however, these machines should also not be used for criminal purposes or commercial profit. For McMahan, the undergirding argument here is the areas that must be protected and the areas that can be and should be recorded. However, only a limited number of police organizations have been receptive to equipping their personnel with “body cams” as standard operating equipment (Glenn 1).
“Dashboard cameras” in police cars are pervasive in police operations, these only offer a restricted viewpoint and mainly record traffic violations and interactions between the police and the public. Body cams, on the other hand, records every action the officer commits. Police organizations trumpet the value of the cameras providing crucial pieces of evidence in cases; however, there is the issue of the use of the remaining videos that are stored by the police, and when these cameras should be activated or turned off. Other concerns that can arise is that the use of the cameras will demotivate individuals from approaching police officers with vital information regarding cases for fear of being apprehended themselves (Weiner 1).
The call for higher levels of police accountability is destroyed when allegations of police officers that have been deployed these mechanisms and was deliberately turned off in a number of situations are reported. These threats are not simply a product of theoretical discourse; when Berkeley, Missouri police elements killed Antonio Martin, it was discovered that the officer who shot Martin was issued a body worn camera unit; however, the unit was deactivated in the time of the shooting.
The lack of the possible inputs that could have been derived from the camera compelled investigators to depend on an awkwardly taken and low grade video from a gasoline filling station. The query of whether to sanction the police officer for alleged negligence to activate the camera, when the camera should have been on, has barely raised anything above a whisper of protest. When the police released statements that the shooting was legal, all protests simultaneously disappeared.
Aside from these apprehensions, there are concerns that sans sufficient and effective policies, “body cams” will be used to quell possible instances when people that have information of possible criminal activity to report to the police, specifically ones that involve errant police officers. In a United States Department of Justice study, the only certain conclusion being drawn is that with the use of “body cams,” there has been a decrease in the number of the complaints regarding inordinate use of force by police elements.
In one theory being posited by analysts, the decrease in complaints can be attributed to a number of possibilities; one postulate that is slowly gaining acceptance is that it is not that police are being deterred; it is that the cameras give the police a record of the encounter with the person, and the record is kept with the police and the citizen cannot gain any access to that recording (Stroud 1).
There have been documented instances when police officers wearing “body cams” have intentionally attempted to change the view of their cameras prior to coming near to a civilian. Though these “lapses” can be taken negatively against an officer in an administrative or even judicial hearing, there are instances where the videos can be excused from being used, i.e., when the officers will be able to record the internal features of a private residence. These and other sensitive situations are being categorized for exemption from public data records.
However, not all of the exemption policies and procedures are being complied with or adhered to. For example, a pilot study done in Mesa, Arizona, where police agencies have deployed no fewer than 160 cameras, the results of the study showed that given the discretion not to activate their camera units, majority of the police officers opted to deactivate their units. Though the police in the area are now mandated to record with the implementation of the “mandatory recording rule,” the policy leaves the possibility for police personnel not to record in a number of instances, though police officers are asked to document most encounters with the public.
Aside from aiding in the decline of grievances against the police, these cameras have helped in interviewing suspects and witnesses to events; when the testimonies are recorded, the police can use the testimony to prosecute the suspects in court. In addition, these “body cams” have been used in equipping new officers as well as discipline erring ones (Manjoo 1).
However, obligating police personnel to wear “body cams” to document all encounters can indicate that there is a degree of suspicion with regards to their conduct in the field. This perception will only fuel the motivation of police officers not to show any discretion (Police Executive 14).
In the middle of the fierce debates over the “excessive use of force,” a number of law enforcement organizations are seriously considering integrating “body cams” to document the actions of the officer and possibly clarify instances where inordinate use of force or eliminate these events if possible. Agencies that are already using body cams among their personnel are discussing on the amount of time that the agency can legally can stow the videos.
In addition, the agencies are also faced with challenges on the possible effects of eventually releasing the videos and possible impacts on privacy concerns on adults and children that will be inadvertently recorded. Other concerns arising from the use of the mechanisms is the discombobulating possibility of having no video when the cameras break down, or in a more deviant light, when the police officer deliberately turns the machine off (Dixson 1).
The most debated issue being attached here is the time that recording can be conducted and the actions that should and should not be documented. For example, there is the question whether police officers should document all encounters with the public or whether the police should be given discretionary powers whether to record an incident or even ban recording. In the former, the police will be obligated all encounters with the public; this will entail officers to keep their cameras activated at all times. This can be interpreted as that the cameras will be kept on not only during on-duty instances, but also when the police interact with the public informally.
This methodology is being advocated by organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) that stated that should police departments equip their personnel with these types of mechanisms, then there should be an attendant policy that will limit the power of the officer to manipulate the camera or edit the instances that the camera will be used. This limitation can only be implemented in the form of an organization-wide policy directive for police operatives to keep the cameras on and document all encounters. The ACLU believes that to optimize the lessening of complaints against the police, then the police should be obligated to document every single encounter (ACLU 1).
For the rights groups, the police should not be given a list where a specific number of instances that the police can exempt video recording requirements. However, obligating officers to record every single encounter can result in infringing on the rights of the public and possibly inflict adverse effects on police-community relations. There are eventualities that call for police to exercise a degree of discretion in deciding whether to turn the cameras on. There are instances that the police should be allowed to turn their cameras off.
For example, police officers can be permitted to switch off their cameras in situations where officers are interviewing crime victims that have concerns of being victims of revenge if these are seen to be collaborating with law enforcement authorities. In addition, police officers should exercise discretion when engaging community members in unofficial capacities. Activating the “body cams” can quickly turn an informal situation into an awkward and stymieing proposition for community members (Police Executive 12).
The widespread of “camera phones,” progressions in monitoring technologies, and the rise of “social media” has transformed the way that the public perceive the concept of privacy; in this light, it can be said that everyone is constantly taking pictures and videos of others. With advances in technology and with the changes in the concepts of privacy, law enforcement agencies must cautiously consider the possible impacts these technologies the rights to privacy of the general public, particularly when these factors are bought to the courts and the courts have not given clear-cut guidelines on the issue.
These “body cams” have generated a number of issues that have been never discussed before. Compared to traditional monitoring approaches, “body cams” or “cop cams” can concurrently document audio as well as video inputs as well as acquire “close-up images” that allows for the possible use of “facial recognition” technologies. Furthermore, though static cameras are commonly deployed in generally public and open areas, these “body cams” gives police personnel the ability to document the confines of a private residence and to record critical situations that might arise in the course of an exigent call (Police Executive 11).
Though officers may face the possibility of being meted out stiff penalties if it is established that the officer deliberately deactivated their “body cams,” the primary motivation is that the evidence gathered may be subject to challenges under the “exclusionary rule” when the evidence is gathered when the cameras are turned off. In addition, the possibility of introducing the mindset that any unjustified instance when the police engage the public and the cameras are turned off can be grounds for perceived criminal behavior and the failure of the police to turn on their cameras can be grounds against the admittance of evidence gathered by the police.
The possible consequences can provide enough impetus for officers to activate their cameras as a matter of standard practice when engaging the members of the public. However, there should be exceptions when police officers inadvertently forget to activate their cameras, especially when these machines are being integrated into the normal operating procedures within a police department (Feeney 1).
Though video and audio documentation by the police on the general public has been conducted for a number of years, equipping police officers with “body cams” is a novel concept. The primary and credible study regarding the use of “body cams” was done by researchers in Rialto, in California’s southern region. The study was conducted by Rialto Police head Tony Farrar during the course of his stay at the UK’s Cambridge University. The research activity examined the utilization of the “Body Worn Cameras (BWCs) in the course of the officer’s shifts. To accomplish the study, two sample lots were formed.
The first sample, called “Experimental Shifts,” obligated each police officer to be fitted with a “body cam” when the officer was on duty; in the course of the shift, the cameras were turned on and recorded all encounters the police had with the public in that time frame. The second team, called “Control Shifts,” was comprised of officers who were instructed not to activate their cameras in the course of their shifts. The veracity of the tasks were rated by the amount of video footage measured against the sampled shifts and the “dip-sampling dates” and verifying that the officers were wearing the equipment as ordered (Ramirez 6-7).
The yearlong study conducted by the Institute of Criminology was initiated in 2012 in Rialto, California. Approximately 1,000 shifts of police personnel were analyzed. After the data of the shift experiments were uploaded into the police data base, analysts examined the footage looking for instances where instances of “use of force” were present; the degree of the force was not factored in. In the results of the research, it was discovered that there was twice as many instances where force was used in the “control” setting compared to the experimental scenario (Ziv 1).
In the trial phase, 25 instances of police “use of force” was recorded, 17 for the “Control” team and 8 for the “Experimental” team. The statistics would display a “mean rate” of 0.78 and 0.33/ 1,000 police encounters with the public. Here, it can be stated that shifts that do not have cameras were prone to incidents of force two times more than shifts that were deployed with cameras. In addition, the city also experienced significant pre- and post- decreases in the existence of “use of force” events: in 2009, Rialto saw a 64 percent reduction in use of force grievances in 2009, followed by a 61 percent decline in 2010, and a 58 percent drop in 2011 (Ramirez 8).
Here, researchers posit the factor that the decrease in grievances lodged against police officers is due to the factor that the individual/s is made aware that the encounter is being documented. By institutionalizing the use of “body cams,” officers will be obligated to give out warnings from the beginning of the encounter that the engagement is being documented; this will have an effect on the mindset of the person and convey a stern message to the person-that we are all being observed and recorded and must comply with the law.
Dr, Barak Ariel, assistant professor at the Institute of Criminology in Jerusalem and an instructor in Experimental Criminology at Cambridge University, notes the value of the cameras as a tool for professionalizing the practice of policing, but also in terms of improving the relationship between the public and the police establishment. However, the Rialto research did not answer all questions on the matter of the use of “body cams” and the decrease in the number of use of force against police. For one, analysts cannot establish the link between the disposition of the police officers, the behavior of the members of the public, or whether the use of the cameras affected any of these variables.
Researchers also posed the theory that the impact of the use of the cameras could have blended into the results of the “control” sample; this will add a degree of vagueness with regards to accurately define the results of the effect. Nevertheless, there is the possibility that even without the knowledge of being observed and recorded, people when interacting with police officials, these will practice normative dispositions to law enforcement officials (Ziv 1).
It is believed that state agents should be held to the highest levels of accountability. In cases where monitoring and recording devices are involved, there is a perception that evidence gathered by “body cams” may not even be admitted in court (Dixson 1). The Rialto research initiative evidenced the possibility that though the deployment of “body cams” can be beneficial for law enforcement agencies, there are unseen social as well as ethical damages that can be incurred with the unbending recording of these cameras (Ramirez 10).
Both the ACLU as well as police agencies note that the use of police “body cams” can give positive results as well as inflict significant damage to rights of the members of the public. In this light, it is recommended that police officers undergo extensive training as part of standard equipping programs prior to being deployed with these machines. The ACLU believes that “body cams” present challenges with regards to privacy invasion issues and the potential to raise the bar on police answerability.
In general, the use of “body cams” can result in a positive situation for the public as well as for the police establishment. If these are deployed in an environment where there is a system of effective policies to protect the members of the community and not be changed into a different general monitoring mechanism to be used by the police, and these will be also developed to ensure the soundness of the privacy safeguards for the public. Bereft of these structures, the answerability benefits will not outpace threats to privacy (Ramirez 12).
American Civil Liberties Union. “Police body-mounted cameras: with right policies in place, a win for all.” <https://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/police-body-mounted-cameras-right-policies-place-win-all
Dixson, R. “Cost, privacy among concerns with police body cameras.” <http://www.wcnc.com/story/news/crime/2014/12/29/cost-privacy-among-concerns-with-police-body-cameras/20992343/
Here, the issue of costs and privacy are raised by the author. With regards to cost, the issue of storing the videos is debated. Two, with issues on privacy, the issue is related in that the videos that are stored will eventually have to be released.
Feeney, G. “Police body cameras raise privacy issues for cops and the public.” <http://www.cato.org/blog/police-body-cameras-raise-privacy-issues-cops-public
One of the factors being discussed here is the possibility of obligating police personnel to turn their cameras one while on duty. Research results show the decline in grievances against police officers when people know their activities and encounters are being recorded.
Glen, S. “Cost and logistical issues limit local police interest in body cameras.” The News Tribune 7 December 2014
Manjoo, F. “Police cameras can shed light, but raise privacy concerns.” The New York Times 26 August 2014
Though the use of “body cams” by police officers is still in their introductory phases, the author points to the dilemma of having no strict and established guidelines will work to the detriment of these machines being accepted into American society. Though there are these concerns, these are still embraced by advocates by civil rights defenders provided that these policies will be provided.
Police Executive Forum. “Implementing a body-worn camera program: recommendations and lessons learned.” <http://www.policeforum.org/assets/docs/Free_Online_Documents/Technology/implementingabody-worncameraprogram.pdf
The agency here posits the factor that deploying body worn recording equipment can generate a number of benefits for the police. Nevertheless, in the light of the threats these can pose to the public, there is a need to incorporate safeguards to protect the right to privacy of the public as well.
Ramirez, E. “A report on body worn cameras.” <http://www.parsac.org/parsac-www/pdf/Bulletins/14-005_Report_BODY_WORN_CAMERAS.pdf
Stroud, M. “The big problem with police body cameras.” <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-01-15/police-body-camera-policies-wont-work-if-cops-dont-turn-cameras-on
Weiner, R. “Police body cameras spur privacy debate.” The Washington Post 10 November 2013
Ziv, S. “Study finds body cameras decrease police’s use of force.” Newsweek 28 December 2014 US
The use of these body cameras reemphasized the deterrence effect of these cameras. Nevertheless, the study developed failed to answer numerous problems owing to the vagueness of the inputs used in the research.
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