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Friday, August 15, 2014

After Ferguson, Police Should be Wearing On-Body Cameras

As reported by The Verge:After conflicts between protestors and police in Ferguson, Mo. yesterday — particularly in the wake of militarized police officers arresting Washington Post and Huffington Post reporters working in a nearby McDonald's — some have suggested that on-body cameras should be more widely used among on-duty police. The theory is that by recording every situation and every conflict that an officer encounters, law enforcement and citizens have an unquestionable account of what really happened. It might also stop an officer from crossing the line.

The Verge produced a story and documentary last year about Axon Flex, perhaps the most advanced of these on-body police cameras, and the advantages and disadvantages of the technology. In that story, civil rights attorney Scott Greenwood talked about his work to establish concrete rules regarding on-body police cameras. I asked him to talk a little about how on-body cameras couldn't helped the situation in Ferguson last night.

"The proper use of OBRS is going to be a very important part of how these agencies restore legitimacy and public confidence."

"On-body recording systems [OBRS] would have been incredibly useful in Ferguson," he says. "This is yet another controversial incident involving one officer and one subject, a minority youth who was unarmed," a reference to Michael Brown, who was killed by police on August 9th. "OBRS would have definitively captured whatever interaction these two had that preceded the use of deadly force." Armed with footage from an on-body camera system, it's possible that police would've had no option but to take swift action against the officers involved — or if Brown's behavior wasn't as eyewitnesses describe, perhaps protests wouldn't have swelled in the first place. Instead, the citizens of Ferguson are left with more questions than answers.

Moving forward, Greenwood doesn't see how on-body cameras can be avoided. "I see no way moving forward in which Ferguson police do not use OBRS," he says. "The proper use of OBRS is going to be a very important part of how these agencies restore legitimacy and public confidence."

There need to be rules, of course — and in his capacity working with the ACLU, Greenwood has helped to sketch out some of those rules. But when situations like Ferguson emerge, it seems reasonable to think that more transparency and more public records are what's needed, not less.