DOJ to fund massive pilot program for police body cameras

While things in Baltimore have calmed down considerably since last week’s protests and the 10 p.m. curfew, the underlying concerns of many people over police misconduct, particularly the use of deadly force, understandably remain very strong here in Maryland and across much of the nation.

In recognition of this reality, the Department of Justice announced last week that it was launching a massive million dollar pilot program designed to expand the use of body cameras worn by police officers.

Under the terms of the program, almost $20 million will be allocated for the sole purpose of outfitting local and tribal law enforcement agencies with body cameras, while nearly $1 million will go toward funding for a study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics examining the efficacy of this technology.

“This body-worn camera pilot program is a vital part of the Justice Department’s comprehensive efforts to equip law enforcement agencies throughout the country with the tools, support, and training they need to tackle the 21st century challenges we face,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

According to proponents of the technology, body cameras provide benefits for both the public and the officers that wear them.

Regarding the former, these proponents argue that body cameras ensure both increased transparency and accountability, two very important elements that they believe will help restore trust between officers and citizens, and, by extension, strengthen communities.

As for the latter, they argue that it helps ensure that comprehensive footage of any potentially controversial arrests or other actions is captured from the perspective of the officer, such that officials no longer have to rely solely on shaky and potentially truncated footage captured by smart phone cameras.

This isn’t to say, however, that body cameras are not without their critics. Indeed, many have argued that while the technology does have its advantages, its use raises important issues that must be adequately addressed by law enforcement agencies, including when the cameras need to be activated by officers, the costs associated with data storage and, of course, privacy concerns.

It should be noted that the DOJ has also indicated that it will assist any agency seeking funds from the pilot program with establishing a proper policy governing the use of body cameras.

It will be interesting to see whether body cameras become standard equipment for police officers in the coming years alongside handcuffs, radios and firearms, and what effect they have on incidents of police misconduct.

What are your thoughts on this important topic? Should all law enforcement officials be required to wear body cameras? If so, under what circumstances should they be activated?

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