An unarmed 18-year-old named Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer named Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014. This fatal incident was witnessed by several individuals, yet there is still conflicting accounts of what really occurred before Mr. Brown’s life was taken. Not only has this tragedy raised issues about the relationship between police departments and their community, but it has also raised the question of whether more technology should be implemented by police officers to better document their encounters with individuals. A White House website petition has already acquired more than 100,000 signatures from people who think the answer to that question is yes.
Within one week of Mr. Brown’s death, over 100,000 people have signed an online petition for a “Mike Brown law” that would require state and local police to wear cameras. Not only are the petitioners interested in this change, but investors are also taking the idea seriously. Taser, a company that makes wearable cameras for police officers, and its stock has jumped by approximately 30 percent since the shooting. VieVu, another company that makes wearable cameras, has reported that their police requests for free trials have increased by 70 percent in just a few days.
Because the petition has more than 100,000 signatures already, the administration is required to respond. On it’s face the petition seems like the perfect solution to the problem; yet there are still other issues that the administration will need to consider when responding. For instance, the technology raises privacy concerns both for the police and the public because there are no national guidelines for how the cameras should be used. Furthermore, the questions of when police should begin recording their work and who gets to decide which encounters should be recorded will need to be worked out.
Lawyer Scott Greenwood, who is currently consulting with police departments adopting cameras, has recommended that they be used nearly every time an officer has contact with a member of the public. When speaking to the New York Times, Greenwood also addressed the issues concerning an individual’s privacy by recommending that any videos recorded in homes be exempt from public records.
Greenwood isn’t alone in his support of this potential change. The American Civil Liberties Union has voiced its support to the New York Times and these cameras have already been adopted in hundreds of police departments across the country. The support being shown can most likely be linked to the success rates of these cameras in the past. For example, complaints against police officers in Rialto, California dropped approximately 88 percent the first year that body cameras were used by the department.
The petition for a “Mike Brown law” has the potential to change the way police departments conduct their everyday business. More importantly, the petition has the potential to change the accuracy of evidentiary situations similar to Michael Browns.
Source: ABA Journal, Online petition urges Michael Brown law requiring cops to wear cameras; what about privacy concerns? Debra Cassens Weiss, 8/21/14