The ACLU recently estimated that a thousand people a year may have been killed by the police in the United States. The whole idea of videotaping the police is to deter excessive force and other forms of misconduct, and to provide a way of resolving disputes between victims of police violence and officers claiming they had just cause. “People behave better on film, whether it’s the police or the suspect,” said Michelle Richardson, public policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, “because they realize others are going to see them.” That’s the main reason President Obama has proposed spending $75 million to help police departments buy body cams.
There’s good evidence body-cams can stop bad cops. In Rialto, California, east of LA, police officers wore cameras for a year in 2012, and as The Guardian reported, “public complaints against officers plunged 88 per cent compared with the previous 12 months. Officers’ use of force fell by 60 per cent.”
But if the police get to decide what the public will see, the entire rationale for the cameras is undermined. The police will release videos when they support the police version of violent encounters, and withhold the videos documenting misconduct.