The Department of Justice is finally investing in the oft-suggested idea of body cameras for police officers. In light of recent incidents involving alleged police violence — from the death of Michael Brown to the death of Freddie Gray — people have been calling for preventative policy, including the introduction of body cameras. President Barack Obama included the plan in his suggestions following a review of law enforcement practices the White House ordered last year.
The DOJ’s $20 million investment includes $17 million in grants for the purchase of body-worn cameras, $2 million for training and technical assistance, and $1 million for the development of evaluation tools to study best practices. This is only one step of Obama’s proposal to invest $75 million in the next three years to purchase 50,000 body-worn cameras for law enforcement agencies.
“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,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “Body-worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability and advancing public safety for law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.”
Will body cameras help?
While many have argued that body cameras will hold police accountable and could even dissuade criminal behavior, organizations like American Civil Liberties Union have suggested the body cameras could pose a potential a threat to privacy — for both the officers and citizens.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House is still collecting more data on the effectiveness of body cameras. “Some of the funds from the Department of Justice will go toward actually studying the impact of body-worn cameras,” he said, according to USA Today.
Some studies have been performed, though. A report co-authored by Police Foundation Executive Fellow Chief Tony Farrar and Dr. Barak Ariel of Cambridge University found a 50% reduction in the number of use-of-force incidents when body cameras were worn, as well as fewer citizen complaints.
Cities are also looking into starting their own pilot programs with body cameras. Baltimore, which has received attention for its riots in response to the death of Freddie Gray, for which six officers have been charged with homicide, has been working toward such a program. The Baltimore City Council approved a bill last November that would have required police to be equipped with audio and video recording devices, but it was vetoed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. However, Rawlings-Blake has expressed support for such cameras and submitted her own proposal for a $1.4 million, six-month body camera program for 100 officers in February.