You’ve heard about the use of body cams for police officers. The idea behind them is to give the public a better picture of what the police do through actual footage of stops, arrests and other police actions. This is intended to provide more openness and transparency, and ultimately, to build more trust in the police. That’s what’s supposed to happen, of course. But what if the cameras aren’t being used? It does nothing to foster openness, and in fact increases the skepticism of the public when it comes to evaluating the legitimacy of police actions.
Of course, there are those who object to the use of the body cams. The claim there is that they will somehow stifle police officers from doing their duty. But even those espousing this position admit that they have no empirical evidence to back up their position.
In any event, Phoenix was the recipient of a federal grant not too long ago which would double the number of body cams available to the PPD. And you would expect, with the relatively high number of police-involved shootings in our city, and the statistically high percentage of those shootings where the person shot is black or Latino, the Department would be anxious to allay any suspicions that they are treating blacks and Latinos differently from whites. But as with all things, if nothing changes, nothing changes. And you can provide all the body cams you want, but if they’re not turned on, or if they’re used by officers selectively, you can toss transparency out the window.
Unfortunately, a study last year by the ASU Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety, showed that in one Phoenix neighborhood, only 6.5% of traffic stops were recorded. This is pretty amazing, when you consider that the PPD policy requires the cameras to be activated as soon as it is safe and practical to do so.
We should add that the noncompliance seen in Phoenix when it comes to turning on the body cams has been seen in other cities. And we predict that the situation will not change unless and until penalties are in place and imposed for failing to turn on the cameras. When there are no consequences for failure to use the body cams, you can expect more of what happened recently in San Francisco. Two deputies were beating a car theft suspect with their batons in the middle of the street. Of the 11 officers who responded, ten failed to turn on their cameras. The one who did activate his did so by mistake. Not one of those who failed to activate their cameras has been subject to any disciplinary action whatsoever.
The Feldman Law Firm PLLC
1 E. Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004