Technology must be strengthened with the proper rules and regulations
Originally published in The Huffington Post
In the United States, Ferguson made us realize the importance of transparency and further need to hold police accountable. Charlotte taught us new lessons about how a city police chief should not have the authority to make a decision on whether or not to release bodycam footage. And yet, studies show the use of bodycams in the United Kingdom have led to a 90 percent drop in complaints. It is in the general interest of the entire public to practice true and unbiased transparency. Technology alone, however, cannot provide all the answers. Policy regulating the use of this technology is imperative.
Researchers believe bodycams have effectively reduced non-compliance amongst officers regarding their procedures, and even criminals and ordinary citizens are thinking twice about their behavior in the presence of police officers. This studycovered various areas UK, observing that the sheer use of cameras have had a significant effect in improving relations in such tense situations.
The issue at hand
Keith Scott was shot by a police officer in Charlotte while his wife was recording the scene with her mobile device. She has released her mobile phone’s footage. The police, however, took too long to budge on releasing bodycam footage of the scene. The policy used in Charlotte permits the police chief to decide if access to recorded audio/video footage revealing a police officer firing a weapon can be provided to an individual filing a complaint against the police. Where’s the transparency in that? Who is a police chief to decide that the public can have access only to his/her own “assessment” of valuable audio/video recording of a very serious and highly provocative encounter affecting all of our society?
An officer may have a good or bad day at work. This shouldn’t be the index based on which we decide to release such important information or not. In fact, the footage captured on an officer’s bad day is exactly what is needed to provide transparency and allow the necessary decision-makings afterwards. The public has the right to know because citizens are paying taxes, and their taxes are funding the millions being used to install bodycams on police officers.
Technology is made available to support the public’s benefit, not allow authorities deprive the public they are elected to serve of the very important data needed to make crucial decisions. Viewpoints differ on the correct use and actual purpose of body cams, with many seeking to collect criminal evidence through this medium, and others seeing it simply as a tool on a mission to allow police accountability. This is where the all-important issue of policy comes into play. The thin line differentiating how tools are used for transparency or surveillance is policy.
We do, however, have to respect the fact that different cities have different legitimate concerns. There are cases where body cam video footage involves an individual’s home. Police departments also seek the ability to protect their officers from public discretion prior to receiving the due process before a judge.
More troubling matters
Yet in circumstances that a city like Charlotte is already under a state of emergency, the release of such sensitive footage can lead to a further discharge of public anger. And this is unwanted addition to the already escalating amount of troubles. This is especially true when the highly controversial issue of race is involved, for say, a white officer opening fire on a black young man. The police should be provided some authority to decide, along with other legitimate officials, if the release of such footage would spark public outrage and endanger public interests. However, this authority must not be tampered and abused to such an extent that the public begins to lose faith and actually questions such decisions.
The UK was also troubled after the unfortunate death of Dalian Atkinson, a former football star for Aston Villa, after being Tasered by the police, instigating more calls for the use of bodycams in the police force.
We as members of the public also bear responsibility on this matter. We should be mature and wise enough to understand that at times when such footage is vague, racial viewpoints, political stances and the perception of what we “want” to see should not mislead our judgement in reviewing such footage. The police should also understand the importance of practicing transparency, and how such measures actually help gain the trust and respect of the very people they are on duty to protect.
The irony is that city officials cite transparency as the very reason to invest in policies of installing body cams on police officers. Thus, their loyalty will of course be put to the test at sensitive times, and not routine days when officers go on with carrying out their duties. Here lies the necessity of proper policy to hold law enforcement officials responsible for remaining loyal to the policy of transparency. If the public is paying the police to protect them, and also paying for such technological tools to help police enhance their safety and security, they should enjoy the right to have access to all the necessary information at such critical times of decision making.