Thursday, December 4, 2014

(The Big Disrupt) Body Cameras: A Boon For Police Accountability and... Reality Shows?

With President Obama and much of the top brass in the country’s largest police departments in favour of its widespread adoption, body cameras will quickly become the norm in police interactions with the public across the United States and fast but there are some major implications involved with technology that are not being addressed.

Feeling the pressure from the nationwide protest against the decision not to indict now former police officer Darren Wilson who shot 18 year old Michael Brown, the Obama Whitehouse and state/local level politicians and police chiefs across the country plan to speed up the adoption of body cameras that will be worn by cops with the Obama “promising up to $263 million in matched funding for law enforcement agencies that want to buy body cameras for their officers[1].

Body cameras seem like a great idea as body cameras will, in theory at least, regulate both the behaviour of cops and the public at large as both will be aware that any interactions between the two will become public record. However, in practice, this theory doesn’t really hold under scrutiny. As many have pointed out, the internet is awashed with instances of police officers using excessive force while on camera that goes unpunished. The most recent tragic case in point was the chokehold death of Eric Garner who, at the time of writing, is trending on twitter in reaction to a grand jury deciding not indict the officer involved in his death.

While body cameras won’t get rid of police brutality, there is some evidence that the technology can be effective in preventing it. A study in Rialto, Californa is a widely cited example where body cameras have proven effective easing tensions between police officers and the public as during the first year of the study “complaints against officers fell from 24 to 3 percent, while police use of force declined from 61 instances to 25 instances[2].

These numbers are impressive and do show that the simple theory that body cameras can keep both cops and the public honest but there are a number of implications that come with implementation of the technology that haven’t been discussed at any length including the actual cost of body cameras, the management of the hours of footage produced by the cameras, the privacy of citizens confronted by cops wearing body cameras and legal efficacy of body cameras just to name a few.

While the eventual nationwide adoption of body cameras by police departments may end up being a win for both the public and police officers, there is one group who would benefit greatly from all the footage recorded by body cameras: TV producers of reality police shows. I tell you now, just wait a year and you’ll see a number of dreadful, derivative, and super pro-cop reality shows pop up in your local TV listings with names like “the beat: up close” or “in the line of duty: a week in the cold streets of ...(any fucked up American city of your choice)”. 

I can tell you right now that these shows will be ratings monsters and they will keep on coming with the greater demand for content across a growing number of platforms.These shows will really suck and I mean really suck as police officers and indeed police officers make for shitty conversationalists as both are devoid of snappy one liners as one would be while encountering police officers who decide whether you’ll go to jail or go home or, in the worst case scenario, do neither.

They will turn cops, charged with protecting and serving the public, into glorified nightcrawlers with badge and a gun and much better access.  Like shitty cop reality shows before them, the new shows will be sensationalist and remarkably intrusive. They’ll intensely focus on heightened situations such as cop raids and altercations with members of the public that will largely drive the plot of these shows. Don’t believe me, watch any shitty cop show of the last 20 years (even some good ones), fiction or otherwise and you’ll have all the proof you’ll need.  

However, the worst thing about these shows isn’t that they would suck or profit from the misery of others, it’s that the main antagonist of the piece would be you and me. These shows will be based on the perspective of cops doing their jobs and asshole citizens getting in their way with their rights and unrealistic expectations of cops to treat them with respect and dignity.

In sum, body cameras may improve relations between police officers and the public and serve as a deterrent against police officers using excessive force against unarmed citizens but I suspect it will be responsible for some of the shittiest moments of television you’ve ever seen had the displeasure of laying your eyes upon


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