In the wake of the lethal shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri a petition has been launched to have the White House look into requiring all police officers in the country to wear body cameras. The petition has now exceeded 128,000 signatures, the Obama Administration said it will respond to petitions that exceed 100,000.
While numerous witnesses claim that unarmed Michael Brown was killed with his hands in the air attempting to surrender, the Ferguson police officer who killed Brown, Darren Wilson, was not on camera. The Ferguson police department had been equipped with dashboard cameras but never installed them. Therefore there is no definitive proof – at the moment – as to what exactly happened during the Brown shooting. With a body camera there would, in theory, be more evidence to review.
The petition for the Michael Brown Law reads:
Mike Brown Law. Requires all state, county, and local police to wear a camera.
Create a bill, sign into law, and set aside funds to require all state,county, and local police, to wear a camera. Due to the latest accounts of deadly encounters with police, We the People, petition for the Mike Brown Law. Create a bill, sign into law, and set aside funds to require all state,county, and local police, to wear a camera.The law shall be made in an effort to not only detour police misconduct (i.e. brutality, profiling, abuse of power), but to ensure that all police are following procedure, and to remove all question, from normally questionable police encounters. As well, as help to hold all parties within a police investigation, accountable for their actions.
While the motive may be pure of heart the consequences of such a policy are worth considering. Every police officer would be recording everything they see patrolling and interacting with the community. This would indeed be a great tool for resolving disputed reports of police misconduct but it also would further enhance the surveillance state. Cities are increasingly putting surveillance cameras everywhere and now the police themselves will become video surveillance devices going into buildings and other places current street surveillance does not see.
The strongest argument I can think of for universal body cameras in principle is that police are acting as public agents and should not generally be doing things that the public they are enforcing the law on behalf of should not see. Police testimony is given considerable weight in court making them already, in a sense, public witnesses to all they see. A video recording from that perspective is just providing a more detailed public account of events that transpire during police work. And, in theory, the police and a police body camera should never be somewhere private without permission or a warrant anyway.
So endeth the theory. Systems are meant to be gamed, especially by insiders who know all the rules. The reality created by implementing this idea may be an enhanced state surveillance system and a police force skilled in avoiding getting caught on the body cameras.