Police Surveillance. Lights, Camera, Action

An Outlook on the State and Necessity of Police Surveillance in the 21st Century

Research Paper (postgraduate) 2014 5 Pages

Law - Miscellaneous


Police: Lights, Camera, Action

America was founded on the principles of freedom and liberty.[1] Americans have always stood up to adversity, and have never let those with power abuse it.[2] It is time that the citizens of America hold our police officers accountable for their actions and check their power. In the first ten years of the twenty-first century, the New York Police Department has spent 964 million dollars settling over 30,000 lawsuits.[3] The bulk of these suits could be avoided if police officers were forced to record all interactions and were checked on their authority. For example, in the city of Rialto, California, 250 officers were required to wear cameras on their lapels while performing stops. After just one year, this led to a 60% drop in use of force by police and an 88% drop in complaints against the police department.[4] These numbers alone prove that cameras on police officers is a good idea for both sides. This issue has been discussed for years, but after the events that transpired in Ferguson, Missouri, a fire was lit under the seats of police forces everywhere to take action. The Michael Brown Law, which is named after the slain teen in Ferguson, forces officers to wear cameras while conducting stops. The bill was proposed in August of 2014 and gained nearly 150,000 online supporters in less than thirty days.[5] This massive outpouring of support shows exactly how big of an issue police accountability has become. A 2010 Gallup poll showed that 43% of Americans distrust police and do not believe they hold high ethical or moral standards.[6] It is time that the police forces throughout the country step up and fix these statistics by holding these officers accountable.

Denver Chief of Police Robert White said “Citizens should know officers are being held accountable.. The only officers who would have a problem with body cameras are bad officers.”[7]. Both civilians and officers alike seek to benefit from this proposal. The citizens will benefit from a check of power towards officers who may have otherwise used unnecessary force or unethical procedure, while upstanding officers will benefit from proof that they were acting within their rights and duties while conducting a stop. Many local and state governments and police forces have already started rolling out cameras to its officers for these reasons. In Pennsylvania, state legislators passed Bill 57, which allows officers to wear cameras while performing a stop.[8] Washington D.C.’s police force started using cameras in September of this year.[9] Officers in Laurel, Maryland started using video cameras and a smartphone application to monitor stops in November of 2013.[10] Even in the infamously violent Los Angeles Police Department, cameras started being used in January of 2014 to protect officers and citizens.[11] As more and more cities begin to embrace this completely logical step, the populace needs to make efforts to ensure this movement does not lose momentum, and that city police forces, large and small alike, as well as state governments, continue to institute policies requiring officers to wear cameras and record their interactions with citizens

Books like Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell have told stories about dystopian futures full of totalitarianism, and for many years, “Big Brother”, the ever watchful eye of the government on its citizens, was just a fearful prospect. But recently, with stories of NSA surveillance and police using Kevlar and tanks to control protests[12], almost all United States citizens are starting to fear that the Government is against the people and intent on completely controlling them[13]. A clear and easy solution to taking away some of the fear people have in our government would be to give them the peace of mind that police officers would not abuse their power. The fact is, when you have police departments not letting people join the force because they are too smart[14], incidents of police shooting citizens for following their given directions during a seat belt violation[15], and police officers sexually assaulting multitudes of women while on patrol[16], all happening in the same year, there needs to be something done. The problem starts when a lack of regulation gives people who are not required to have a college degree or any sort of prior experience other than a short test and training program the responsibility and authority of a badge. By doing this, it is very nearly guaranteeing that there will be errors and lapses in judgement. By forcing officers to record stops, however, there will be a sizeable gain in accountability.

Although congress could pass the Michael Brown law, and require police forces to wear cameras via legislation, it would be easier, quicker, and much more well-received by police forces if the forces choose to do it by their own accord. Our goal must be to increase general knowledge about the benefits of the police wearing cameras, and by showing forces the support that this cause has gained. Towns need to lobby their forces and let them know that this is what “we the people” are asking for. America should aim for every police force in the United States to have cameras on their officers in the next ten years. It is not a process that takes long to enact. Earlier this year, the UK decided to have all armed police wear cameras at all times.[17] Four months later, the first wave of cameras was already being deployed.[18] The quickest method that would prove usable would be to form contracts with data and camera providers, and roll them out in waves. In Baltimore, MD, it was determined that the startup cost to arm every officer with a body camera would cost around seven million dollars, with an operating cost of about two million dollars a year. The money needed for the cameras will seem like a lot at first, but the benefit outweighs the cost when you consider the amount spent on lawsuits, and the pricelessness of making all citizens feel safe.[19]

An organized method to rolling out cameras to cities all over the country starts with media coverage and as much exposure as possible. Our policy actors must be a majority of Americans that all show support and demand something be done. The best way to do this would be by pairing with the American Civil Liberties Union, who has spoken out in favor of body mounted cameras multiple times, and has the necessary funding and following for the outreach that this country need to move forward.[20] After the ACLU has attracted the necessary attention, peaceful protests begin in cities where the police are refusing to deploy the cameras. Large, well-organized protests will show police forces that it is no longer an option to hold their officers accountable, it is a necessity. If protests do not work, letter writing and grassroots campaigning can be organized to show local representative what their constituents are asking for. Hopefully, after legislators see that the public is demanding cameras and the police are not cooperating, representatives can work with the mayors to create ordinances requiring the police to begin usage of body cameras. At this stage, if there are still large police forces trying to refrain from implementing the cameras, local and state governments can follow the advice of Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, who said “No police department should get federal funds unless they put cameras on officers”.[21] If the public threatens to cut police funding in the same way that the national government threatened to cut highway funding to states that did not increase the drinking age to twenty-one in the 1980’s, then results can be expected almost immediately.[22] After the forces have agreed to begin using the cameras, the next stage of implementation is making sure the cameras that are chosen are not able to be tampered with, and all data is stored securely and encrypted so that the footage isn’t accessible unless needed for a suit or evidence. The Rialto Police Department’s cameras and methods of storage worked very well, with very few malfunctions reported and an effective way of keeping all of the information on the computers. America should take these same strategies that Cambridge University designed for Rialto PD and apply them nationally, because of the effectiveness of their strategy and the clear results of their program.[23]

Through increasing the accountability of our police officers, decreasing officer’s likelihood to use force, and providing a full, unbiased account of police interactions with citizens, body cameras on our police officers will provide benefits for American citizens that far outweigh the costs of implementation. Police, legislators, and citizens alike all support body cameras, and since the death of Michael Brown, there has been a massive outpouring of support from all walks of life for body camera policies to be instituted. Through raising awareness, letter-writing and grassroots campaigning, and appealing to our policy makers, the entire country’s police forces can soon be sporting body cameras that will benefit the police, the citizens, and America.


[1] The Declaration of Independence, 1776. Washington: Dept. of State, 1911. Print.

[2] Revolutionary War. Performance.

[3] "NYPD Paid Nearly $1 Billion To Settle Lawsuits - CBS New York." CBS New York. N.p., n.d. Web.

[4] "What Happens When Police Officers Wear Body Cameras."The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company, n.d. Web.

[5] Boyer, Dave. "Petition for ‘Michael Brown Law’ Passes Threshold for Consideration." Washington Times. The Washington Times, n.d. Web.

[6] "3 Reasons Intelligent, Rational Americans Don't Trust Police." Cop Block RSS. N.p., n.d. Web.

[7] "Denver Police Asking for 800 Body Cameras for Officers." The Denver Post. N.p., n.d. Web.

[8] "Police Body Cameras Heading to Pennsylvania." - WHTM Harrisburg, Pa.N.p., 10 Feb. 2014. Web.

[9] "D.C. Police Will Wear Body Cameras as Part of Pilot Program." The Washington Post, n.d. Web.

[10] "Police Body Cameras Spur Privacy Debate." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 12 Oct. 2013. Web.

[11] Pritchett, Valerie. "Los Angeles Police Department Officers Begin Wearing Body Cameras." ABC7 Los Angeles. N.p., 4 Jan. 2014. Web.

[12] Bouie, Jamelle. "Police Are Using Military Weapons to Occupy Ferguson, Missouri."Slate Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web.

[13] Rose, Adam J. "Trust In Government? Poll Finds Nearly 80% Of Americans Don't." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com,

[14] Gillipsie, Nick. "Court OKs Barring Smart People From Becoming Cops (Really)."Reason.com. N.p., 1 May 2013. Web.

[15] News, Abc. "Dashcam Captures South Carolina Trooper Shooting Unarmed Man in Traffic Stop." ABC News. ABC News Network, 25 Sept. 2014. Web.

[16] Golgowski, Nina. "Oklahoma City Cop Charged with Sexually Assaulting Eight Women Is Released on Bond." NY Daily News. N.p., 5 Sept. 2014. Web.

[17] "Duggan Shooting Prompts Camera Move." BBC News. N.p., 19 Jan. 2014. Web.

[18] "Met Officers to Trial Body Cameras." BBC News. N.p., 8 May 2014. Web.

[19] Robinson, Lisa. "Baltimore Bill Addresses Police Body Cameras." WBALTV. N.p., 23 Sept. 2014. Web.

[20] Stanley, Jay. "Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win For All." American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU, n.d. Web.

[21] Shorman, Jonathan. "Mo. Senator: Tie Federal Funding to Police Body Cams." USA Today. USA Today, 27 Aug. 2014. Web.

[22] Resnick, Brian. "Four Times the Government Held Highway Funding Hostage." Www.nationaljournal.com. The National Journal, n.d. Web.

[23] "Where Police Wear Cameras on Their Uniforms." YouTube. CNN Money, 21 Aug. 2013. Web.


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Title: Police Surveillance. Lights, Camera, Action