Ferguson Police Have Body Cameras… But Don’t Wear Them

Recent events such as the shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, have attracted a multitude of criticism. One thing the public questions is how this shooting could have been avoided, and if the newly popular body-mounted cameras worn by police officers would have made a difference.

While Ferguson police claim that Wilson “fired only after Brown tried to grab his gun,” eyewitnesses maintain, “Brown’s hands were raised when he was killed.”

According to NBC News, over a thousand police departments in the U.S. are using body cameras. The question stands: Would Wilson wearing a body camera have made a difference?

According to the Wall Street Journal, just as dashboard-mounted cameras in patrol cars were met with criticism when they became popular in the mid-1990s, body-mounted cameras have also been criticized.

One group that is not in favor of the new trend is the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which responded to an order that the New York Police Department must wear body cameras in certain districts, with a report calling the cameras an “encumbrance.”

In contrast, the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement saying that the cameras “have the potential to be a win-win, helping protect the public against police misconduct, and at the same time helping protect police against false accusations of abuse.”

A criminology professor at Arizona State University, Michael White, believes that just like the dashboard cameras, the body cameras will also become a part of standard procedure. “It could be as little as 10 years until we see most police wearing these,” said White.

White told the Wall Street Journal that he doesn’t believe the body cameras will necessarily solve all of the problems between citizens and law enforcement. “There is a presumption that citizens will be happy with this because it seems to provide more transparency and accountability, but that might not be the case,” White said. “Especially in areas where there are long-term tensions between police and their communities.”

Missouri lawmaker, Courtney Curtis, also believes the use of a body camera would have made a difference, especially in preventing the major protests that broke out following Brown’s death. Curtis told NBC News that even if the potential use of audio-video hadn’t provided all of the answers, it would have at least given them a “starting point.”

While one of the concerns about arming each and every police officer with a body-mounted camera has been the cost, new competition in the market has set the current price of individual cameras between $300 and $400.

Two of the major companies supplying these devices are Vievu LLC and Taser International Inc. Both companies require extra monthly subscription fees regarding the storage and management of the data in a cloud-based system.

Petitions have been created on both Change.org and on the White House website have been created, demanding that police officers be required to wear body cameras. As of Tuesday, the petition on Change.org has almost 43,000 signatures, and the petition on the White House’s website has over 120,500 signatures.

While many are crying out for the use of body cameras to be adopted in towns such as Ferguson, Missouri, the Wall Street Journal reported, “Police in Ferguson have a stock of body-worn cameras, but have yet to deploy them to officers.