It’s hard not to think of RoboCop when you see a Taser Axon Flex digital video recorder, known as a body camera, mounted on a police officer’s sunglasses.
The Winston-Salem Police Department wants to join thousands of other departments across the country – 1 in 6, according to law enforcement experts – and equip more of its officers with the technology.
We think it’s a smart idea that should help protect the police and the public and reduce citizen complaints. But the cameras must be governed by a rigorous set of policies for their use, or they may create privacy concerns and end up harming relations between officers and citizens.
Police Chief Barry Rountree told the city council’s Public Safety Committee last week that he would like to equip 95 additional officers with two cameras each at a total cost of $644,000, the Journal’s Wesley Young reported. Each officer must carry two cameras so one can be charged while the other is in use. A limited number of the body cameras are in use already.
In addition to sunglasses, the small cameras can be worn attached to a headband, ball cap, lapel or shoulder epaulette. And they can be mounted on the dashboard of the officer’s cruiser.
Roundtree said he would like to use the Taser Axon Flex cameras to eventually replace the department’s aging fleet of in-car video cameras, which capture only about 15 percent of the officer’s activity. The body cameras also give the officer the ability to turn the video on and off.
Therein lies one of the first policy procedures to be determined: Under what circumstances is the officer allowed to turn the camera on or off? Citizens need to know the cameras are not being used to record only incidents that protect the officer.
“If you have the correct policies and procedures in place I think they can be a very valuable resource for law enforcement as well as the public.” Chris Brook, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina, told the Journal. “They can protect police against frivolous claims of abuse and have the potential to protect against police misconduct …”
The ACLU and the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit police research organization, are providing assistance to the U.S. Justice Department as it develops national guidelines for the use of police body cameras, The Associated Press reported. The city of Winston-Salem is also working on its own regulations.
With strict rules in place, body cameras hold the potential for improved public safety and better relations between the police and the citizens they are sworn to serve.