Focus on body cameras and accountability in Idaho, nationally

By June 1, 2017Drunk Driving

Idaho and across the country began progressively implementing the use of body cameras, questions and concerns — as well as material challenges — still remain regarding their use.

And control.

In fact, it is that issue of control — marked by the question, “Who has power over their storage, editing and release?” — that centrally features in a recent NPR piece focused on the cameras’ steady proliferation and an attendant controversy that accompanies this singular policing tool.

Footage shot by body cameras is now a mainstay in Idaho and nationally in matters ranging widely from drunk driving stops to drug-related stings and in police-citizen interactions involving alleged sex crimes, domestic violence, theft offenses and myriad other enforcement actions.

And the question is often asked: Who are the cameras intended to primarily benefit, the police or the citizenry?

The NPR report duly cites “a growing public perception that body camera video is really meant to serve the needs of police, not the public.”

As long as such a belief exists among even a notable minority of Americans, a tandem distrust in the public domain accompanies it.

And that perhaps makes a voluntary relinquish of video storage and in-custody controls over camera video by police departments a sound idea.

If, as many police officials routinely state, the cameras are a tool to enhance police accountability, some non-police body might make optimal sense as an oversight manager.

“[P]erhaps the footage should be under the control of an independent entity,” says one commentator in the NPR article.

Seemingly, many Americans agree with that, based on recurring acrimony directed toward police departments across the country in recent months for their perceived manipulation of tape and questionable tardiness in releasing it when doing so seems manifestly dictated.

A director of one college program focused on police practices and social justice says that police departments need to quickly surrender tight controls over video to an outside organ deemed impartial and objective by the public.

If they don’t, he contends, many Americans will simply believe that the cameras have scant little to do with keeping police accountable, and are far more geared to documenting the public and making records of potential suspects for future cases.

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