Obama proposes more body cams

I was pleased to see that president Obama has pushed for the widespread use of body cameras to be worn by police officers while they are on duty, by providing matching funds that could supply up to 50,000 units.

Under the matching program announced Monday, local police departments will be able to apply for the matching funds in a program modeled after one that equipped officers around the country with body armor.

It’s part of a proposed $263 million, three-year initiative that will also provide more local police training and broaden the federal Department of Justice’s role in that training, White House officials told reporters in a background briefing.

Obama also said he will issue an executive order to streamline and tighten how the federal government passes surplus equipment to local law enforcement agencies, White House officials said.

Of course, just having body cams is not enough unless policies are put in place that will prevent them being turned off without good reason and that the videos will be stored and not erased. Otherwise we may have an epidemic of Watergate-type gaps in recordings at crucial moments. Having the recording go straight to the cloud will prevent things like this case where Denver police seized a tablet computer from someone who was recording them beating a man and his pregnant girlfriend and then erased the video. But the material had already gone to the cloud and was recovered later.

You can expect police departments to try and find ways to torpedo this since it will definitely limit their freedom to act as they like and not allow them to get away with things simply because right now their word is accepted over that of civilians. Given the Republican policy of opposing any Obama initiative I wonder how the Republicans are going to react to this? Will they object on the grounds that it might somehow inhibit police actions by making them more apprehensive? Or will that be seen as too risky a strategy that looks like they want to protect acts of police brutality?

So far they have been quiet, perhaps trying to gauge public sentiment before taking a stand.


  1. Heidi Nemeth says

    If getting the body cams requires police departments to match federal funds, richer communities will be able to afford them. The poorest communities, where the racial divide between citizenry and police is greatest, will not be able to afford them. The body cams will protect wealthier, more likely white people, from police brutality, not poor blacks.

    I wonder why Obama didn’t propose *giving* the body cams to police departments in the poorest black communities in the country? Same cost – and a better way to address the problem.

  2. says

    Yeah, this is a very public band-aid that may help a little bit but won’t do much for the people who need it most, especially since in many of the latest cases of police murder the people involved have been pretty much fully cognizant of what went down. If a cop can get off scot free for murdering a seven year old girl sleeping on a couch, despite everyone involved knowing the full details of the incident, how much of a difference are the cameras really going to make?

    Also, I saw somewhere mentioned that the biggest supplier of these body cams is Taser, so this is really just another way of funnelling federal money into the corporations profiting off the militarization of our police forces.

  3. Henry Gale says

    I’m thinking that if police are required to wear body cams the issue of whether citizens can record the police can be put to rest. If they can record us then we surely can record them.

  4. lpetrich says

    We have to show how it can also *help* cops, like in cases where people threaten them without good reason. Cops’ work sometimes gets them involved with some very unsavory characters.

  5. says

    Of course, just having body cams is not enough unless policies are put in place that will prevent them being turned off without good reason and that the videos will be stored and not erased.

    That’s easily solved. If the cop voluntarily turns off the camera (not by being assaulted), the cop is assumed to be lying or guilty, and the civilian assumed to be telling the truth or innocent. If cops turn off the camera, the cops have to prove they did not commit the crime, not the public prove they did.

    Or it can be done much cheaper: do a better job of hiring and training them, and stop instilling them with a sense of elitism and “superiority”, stop inciting them to commit violence and viewing the public as the “enemy”. Many things “solved by technology” can be solved much cheaper without it, especially when the technology does nothing to address the source of the problem..

  6. lorn says

    Experience in England with video monitoring hasn’t necessarily turned out as many thought. To the good police and the people who they interact with do sometimes show better behavior. It is thought this is a result of knowledge that they are being recorded.

    One assumption was that police would set back a notch because of their bad behavior. A surprising result in some cases was that the general public was much more sympathetic to police after seeing and hearing what they put up with daily. In one case a recording was played to a mixed group and commentary ran from: ‘why is the cop just taking it?’ and ‘why doesn’t he bash them?’

    It may not be reliably assumed that the general public will not ask for more, not less, aggressive police tactics.

  7. se habla espol says

    Oddly enough, the very red state of Utah seems ahead of the curve on police body cameras.
    It seems to have to do with a rash of controversial shootings by police over the last two or three years, all of which have been officially declared justified. The Salt Lake City PD is fully equipped with cameras, says the chief, costing about $100,000.
    The individual cops like having them.
    Other PDs in the area are playing with of-the-shelf cameras, to see whether they might be suitable. Many of them aren’t, for various reasons, say the departments; they’re looking for a better grade of equipment, along with money to buy them.

    The SLC TV news, last night, reported on a meeting at the University of Utah, where republican legislators announced plans to make funds available to all Utah PDs for cameras. Various speakers reported almost universal interest among the state’s police chiefs.

    It will be interesting to observe Ted Cruz’s lapdog, Senator Mike Lee (UT Red)’s actions in the upcoming TeaParty-vs-Obama-and-Utah fight over Obama’s matching-grant proposal.

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