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Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Point-counterpoint: Can body cameras increase police accountability?

With Dane County Sheriff’s Department launching body-worn camera program, opinions differ on effectiveness of technology
Bennett Waara

The Dane County Sheriffs Department will soon launch a body-worn camera pilot program. In the past years, multiple court cases have utilized body camera footage to hold police officers for misconduct, but many criminal justice advocates are wary about the transparency body cameras actually provide without additional policies to keep officers in line. Can the use of body cameras by police officers actually provide transparency or does more need to be done?

Point: Police body cameras can help build trust and hold officers accountable

Body-worn cameras are a popular new technology on both the part of law enforcement and the public with 66% of officers and 93% of the public favoring it, according to Pew Research Center. These body cameras can be used as somewhat of a two-way street for keeping police and the public accountable and safe.


These cameras can be used to provide certainty regarding what exactly happened in a specific situation. When they are implemented and used, evidence quality has the potential to become highly improved. Videos help document scenes and crimes which can reduce the work needed to be done by officers to corroborate evidence and instead promote more guilty pleas when necessary, according to the National Institute of Justice. Additionally, having this footage creates undeniable proof of what really occurred so there isn’t room for deniability or confusion with witness testimony.

Body camera footage can serve to correct errors made in legal matters, as well. Severe misconduct allegations deemed false increased 2.4% since the implementation of body camera footage and the percent of officers exonerated increased 6.5%, according to a report from The San Diego Union-Tribune. This certifies that those who made false accusations are actively proven wrong and those who were accused were offered a sense of freedom. Additionally, the body cameras can be used to train new officers and reeducate existing officers on how to interact with the public during tense situations.

These cameras help promote accountability because the officers know their actions are recorded and can serve as a reminder for them to act in accordance with their training. This can help build trust between communities and law enforcement officers as this increased transparency will allow people to feel safer.

Also, much of the lack of confidence in law enforcement is exacerbated by questions surrounding what really happened in a certain situation. Often times, this involves questions surrounding officers using excessive force. Video footage can provide documentation that confirms or denies people’s questions and can lead to a quicker and more just resolution.

Some activists think body cameras do more harm than they help. There is a broader call to end qualified immunity, a doctrine that protects individual government employees from liability when they take discretionary action. This can lead to a lack of accountability because there aren’t necessarily mechanisms that hold specific officers accountable for their actions.

While body cameras have many important benefits, they should not be the only measure of accountability or the only method used to build trust. They should be part of a multifaceted process. If used correctly and widely, body cameras have the potential to make serious positive changes to the world of policing.

Sammie Garrity ([email protected]) is a freshman studying journalism and political science.

Counterpoint: Body cameras are not useful without additional strategies to hold officers accountable

While body cameras on police may give the impression of more transparency between departments and citizens, there is actually little evidence to prove body cameras are effective alone in increasing accountability. In fact, many argue that without proper laws and regulations regarding the punishment of officers, the cameras are useless.

In the discussion regarding the Dane County Sheriff Office’s launch of a body camera program for their officers, activists expressed discontent with the idea that body cameras alone can provide transparency between officers and the public.

In an interview with WKOW, criminal justice advocate Matthew Braunginn said body cameras alone cant address the root issues of law enforcement. Qualified immunity, for example, protects individual officers from being held accountable for discretionary actions. But without a system in place to utilize evidence against police officers and hold them accountable, body cameras are a waste of taxpayer dollars, Braunginn said.

There is also evidence that police body cameras are not as effective as most want to believe. According to a study from Criminology and Public Policy, while most police departments believe that body cameras affect officers’ behavior in a positive way, the use of body cameras is not actually shown to have a large effect on police behavior. Also, the study found that public opinions of police officers are also not changed based on whether or not they are wearing a body camera.

Citing the study, an article from Vox explained that while the cameras can be useful in certain contexts, they should not be the sole tool to create transparency between departments and the public. The article also said that while most academic research surrounding body cameras has focused on the impact of cameras on officer behavior, these studies have not found any correlation between cameras improving or worsening behavior.

There are also barriers to accessing footage from body cameras. First, there are technological issues with the cameras themselves, according to the Washington Post. Body cameras are not on and recording all hours of the day — officers have to turn on and activate the camera before recording. Officers can sometimes forget to activate their camera or potentially even worse, avoid activating it on purpose.

Additionally, most average civilians are unable to access the footage. Especially in scenarios with officer misconduct, footage is withheld from the public to prevent interference with “ongoing investigations,” according to AP News. This makes one question how effective body cameras really are in creating transparency between the public and police departments.

Thus, while police body cameras can be useful in certain situations, it is clear that they on their own are not capable of creating transparency between a police department and the citizens they are supposed to protect. Without legal repercussions for officer misconduct and regulations regarding how officers are punished, body cameras alone are unlikely to improve the relationship between police and the public.

Emily Otten ([email protected]) is a senior studying journalism.

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