Body-Worn Cameras on a “Slippery Slope”?
January 9, 2016
What do Montgomery County MD, Pullman, WA, Newark DE, and Fredericksburg VA, all have in common? They are county and city locations where body-worn cameras (BWCs) are being used, or planning to be used, on public employees that aren’t county or municipal police officers. From schools and university personnel to code enforcement, parking enforcement, emergency medical services and fire marshals, there is a growing trend to place BWCs on any public employee that may have regular, and potentially contentious, interactions with citizens. It was perhaps inevitable. The political and societal factors that have led local governments and communities to the top of this “slippery slope” of increasing video recording with BWCs are many of the same that have led to other sometimes ill-conceived and instituted laws, ordnances, and policies. There is no doubt that we are becoming a society of constant monitoring. There are vast challenges, however, to expanding BWC throughout the public sector. One only has to look at daily news stories on BWCs from around the country to see the implementation challenges faced by police departments. The technology is new and we have yet to determine all the effects they will have on both the police and the communities they serve. Expanding the use of BWCs to other public employees increases these challenges exponentially. The processes used, and lessons learned, from police deployment of BWCs won’t always transfer to the world of a fire fighter, code enforcement employee, or medical service employees. The burden certainly lies with local governments to get this right and avoid the unintended consequences. This will cost a lot of tax-payer money and consume a lot of valuable resources. As we begin to plunge down the “slippery slope” lets hope we don’t look back in a few years and regret another case of poor public policy, faulty implementation and lost dollars.