Risk Reward of Police Body Cameras

Discussion about police body cameras is on the rise in the wake of incidents involving police misconduct.  Body cameras are not required, but more and more officers are wearing them.  Footage captured on the cameras protects citizens from police misconduct and protects officers from allegations of misconduct. But a recent investigative report on the Today Show suggests that even body camera footage can be deceiving.  What’s more concerning is it appears the footage can be intentionally misleading.

The report demonstrates various scenarios in which the video from a body camera makes situations look more combative than reality and situations that disguise a violent encounter.  One person acted as the officer while the other acted as the suspect.  A third person stood at a distance to record the actual interaction.

Officers typically clip their body cameras on their chest, which limits the scope of the footage.  For example, as part of a DUI investigation, the officer administers three standard field sobriety tests: 1. HGN (“eye test”); 2. One leg stand and 3. Walk and turn.  While the suspect is captured on the video, the person’s actual performance is not recorded in its entirety because the officer is not usually far enough away from the suspect to capture  the full body length.

Similar to body cameras, more and more patrol cars are being equipped with dash cameras.  While the Today Show report did not address dash cameras, like body cameras, dash camera footage is not infallible.  Many dash cameras are only activated when the lights and/or sirens are activated, leading to the possibility that early parts of an investigation are missing.  If an officer conducts part of an investigation off to the side of their patrol car rather than in front, that investigation will not be captured on the video.  Additionally, when the dash camera is activated, the officer often has a microphone that picks up sound even if there is no visual.  This leads to the possibility that an officer could narrate his alleged observations to be captured on video even though the suspect is not on video.

While body and dash cameras probably offer more protection than not having them, body and dash camera should be reviewed with a critical eye to ensure that what the viewer thinks he is hearing and seeing is actually what he is hearing and seeing.

To watch the Today Show report, visit: