Policing the Police
Back in May of 2020, a troubling video emerged from Minneapolis. It showed a policeman pinning a man named George Floyd to the ground with his knee. The officer restrained Floyd in this manner for over eight minutes, which tragically led to Floyd’s death by asphyxiation. This sparked a hailstorm of criticism and a long series of protests across the country.
Despite these widespread demonstrations, other instances of alleged police brutality occurred, and calls for police reforms subsequently grew louder—even here in generally quiet Georgia. Now that the Georgia General Assembly is back in session, there’s some hope that lawmakers will consider substantive—but commonsense—police reforms.
Interestingly, last November, Rep. Sandra Scott (D-Rex) pre-filed HB 18 to address these issues. To be fair, this measure faces an uphill battle, given that Rep. Scott hails from the minority party and that she hasn’t filed the bill; she only pre-filed it. This means that the legislature cannot consider it in its current state. Nevertheless, while her draft isn’t perfect, there are some promising ideas within it, including mandated police bodycams.
As it stands, many local departments in the Peach State already use police body cameras to varying degrees. The State of Georgia, on the other hand, doesn’t require their usage, but should consider doing so. Police bodycams have the potential to be an effective tool that encourages better behavior and protects the general public as well as law enforcement officers—all of which is sorely needed.
While there is no comprehensive database that aggregates and publishes every instance of police use of force, suffice it to say, it happens with great frequency. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that of the 61.5 million individuals who had some form of interaction with police in 2017, around 2 percent—or 1.3 million people—“experienced threats or use of force from police.” Many of these interactions turned deadly.
This is not to say that the police behaved improperly in each of these cases. Rather, the majority of officers probably acted as they were trained and in good faith. Even so, it would be foolish to believe that none of these instances involved misconduct. After all, there are always a few bad apples, but studies suggest that police bodycams can reduce these cases and the overall prevalence of use of force.
According to the University of Cambridge, a “year-long study of almost 2,000 officers across UK and US forces shows introduction of wearable cameras led to a 93% drop in complaints made against police by the public.” Similarly the Rand Corporation discovered, “if [officers] kept the cameras rolling for their whole shift, use-of-force decreased.”
The reasons for this seem clear. When officers wear bodycams, their actions can more easily be scrutinized, which holds them more accountable for their actions. Thus, bodycams create an environment in which cooler heads often prevail—leading to fewer unnecessary occurrences of use of force—which is a net positive for society.
Further, though much of the bodycam debate generally revolves around reducing use of force against the public, which is important, these cameras also aid the police. First, they can document every interaction—protecting officers from frivolous complaints and false accusations. Second, it provides officers with evidence of the attacks that they endure.
This is evident from the recent Rand report that stated, “Over the ten trials, rates of assault against officers wearing cameras on their shift were an average of 15% higher, compared to shifts without cameras. This could be due to officers feeling more able to report assaults once they are captured on camera—providing them the impetus and/or confidence to do so.”
In the end, opposition to bodycams frequently boils down to cost. The devices range from $100-1,000, which can be a daunting price tag when considering the size of some police departments, but the advantages are immense. It provides further transparency in policing, reduces use of force and protects police officers. Considering all of this, the cost of bodycams does not outweigh the benefits.