Yes To Body Cams
By Ron Hosko, LELDF President
On Monday, President Obama held a private meeting with civic leaders and law-enforcement experts from across the U.S. to discuss improvements to the American justice system in light of the decision by a St. Louis County grand jury not to indict Officer Darren Wilson.
Despite the judicial determination of Wilson’s innocence, the meeting—which included race provocateur Al Sharpton, who reportedly has $4.5 million in tax liens—focused only on issues of policing, clearly suggesting that law enforcement bears sole responsibility for the growing rift between the police and minorities in America.
Of all the new orders for police from the Obama administration, the most publicized is the expanded use of body cameras. While the relationship between this president and police officers is strained at best, this is a topic where they might well find common ground.
When law enforcement has nothing to hide, they have nothing to lose. Confident in their professionalism and committed to securing the rights of those they serve, many law-enforcement leaders welcome the use of body cameras.
They are eager to improve our justice system by holding to account those few cops who err in performing their duties, and they wish to exonerate good law-enforcement officials falsely or wrongly accused of misconduct or criminality. I share this view with conservative talk-show host Mark Levin, as well as with the "tough on crime" former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani, whose efforts dramatically transformed a city plagued by violence.
While there are many reasons to support the use of such tools, the public should be fully aware that these cameras are not a panacea. As we saw in the recent case on Eric Garner, cameras alone cannot bring indictments.
Body cameras will raise issues of legality, privacy, cost, storage, and data sharing, among others. Civil libertarians, keen to rein in law enforcement as agents of an intrusive government, will quickly weigh in on the appropriate amount of information obtained by the cameras and the amount of information that will be stored and shared.
Additionally, the public must manage its expectations on the capabilities and limitations of body cameras, as well as other proposed police reforms.
Expectations raised by the CSI genre of TV cop shows will often be dashed; gratification via instant replay will be delayed by hours, days, months, or years of legal hurdles.
Despite what the CSI series has lead us to believe, law enforcement is quite limited in the technologies and techniques necessary to fight crimes. Solving complex cases often requires extraordinary intuition, experience, and analysis, not just CNN Election Night touch screens and computer-generated simulations.
Even with cameras, civilian cooperation and law-enforcement expertise will be necessary to keep our communities safe.
Police officers know they won’t find a friend in the White House, or at the attorney general’s office, or on MSNBC. They perform dangerous work that’s meant to safeguard our communities—the same communities they, too, call home.
They have been victims of an anti-cop agenda perpetuated by self-promoting activists and also by the Obama administration, but they are open to changes to protect the public and themselves. Even in the face of such transparent animosity, those serving in law enforcement, yet again, are the adults in the room. And they are waiting patiently for the constructive conversation about criminality and personal responsibility.