The recent decisions to not indict police officers involved in the deaths of Black men such as Michael Brown and Eric Garner have inspired passionate conversations about our justice system. Across the nation, several police departments are seeking to rebuild trust in their respective communities by implementing policies to increase transparency. On Dec. 2, the Ypsilanti City Council approved a resolution for the purchase of 15 body cameras for its police staff after nearly a year of discussions. While the Garner case has proven body cameras alone can’t be expected to solve deeply rooted and systemic issues of police brutality, requiring officers to wear them has been statistically shown to create more accountability on all sides. Therefore, the Ann Arbor Police Department, the University of Michigan Police Department and other law enforcement agencies across the nation should adopt the use of body cameras as the first step in a multi-pronged approach to police reformation.
Ypsilanti Police Chief Tony DeGiusti submitted a request to the Ypsilanti City Council for nearly $55,000 worth of equipment purchases and upgrades. While Ypsilanti police cars currently have dashboard cameras that can record police interactions in front of the vehicles, DeGiusti noted that the outdated equipment has become a problem for the department. In addition, a bargain offered by law enforcement technology company L-3 Mobile-Vision motivated the police force to purchase the cameras. Similarly, Eastern Michigan University has announced plans to invest $17,000 in body camera equipment for officers, and Ann Arbor officials discussed the implementation of body cameras Monday, Dec. 8.
Body cameras would not only hold police more accountable for their actions, but also the civilians with whom they interact. The cameras could also potentially help with conflicting witness testimonies that so often result from encounters with police officers. Furthermore, a study of the use of body cameras by police in Rialto, California, shows that the use of force by police fell by 60 percent and citizen complaints decreased by 88 percent after their distribution.
Though it is commendable that the Ypsilanti Police Department and other law enforcement agencies are taking these preventative measures, the use of these body cameras must be accompanied by legislative guidelines to ensure that the cameras are an effective measure. The department has mandated that officers turn their cameras on upon coming into contact with a citizen. While there are both pros and cons to this policy, legislators must create a specific, uniform policy providing strict guidelines regarding when cameras should be on and how they should be utilized. According to The Atlantic, there is very little conclusive and consistent evidence, research or testing regarding the use of body cameras. With President Barack Obama asking for $263 million in federal funding for the purchase and training of body camera use, it’s imperative that these devices’ role in the justice system be closely monitored.
It’s important to note that body cameras will not completely solve the problems that exist between citizens and law enforcement. As Obama stated after the Ferguson decision, “This is a problem that is national.” The road to a solution must include providing police personnel with better and more extensive training. Police departments across the nation should reevaluate their practices and hold their officers to a higher standard. Nonviolent measures should always be encouraged whenever possible and officers should be better trained to handle civilians of all identities, including those with mental disabilities and other cognitive impairments. Being aware of differing cultural identities will lead police officers to become more sensitive to the different issues facing groups within our diverse society. It’s becoming increasingly evident that there is a deep and extremely problematic divide between some police forces in the United States and the communities they police. In helping to close this divide, body cameras are a piece of the puzzle, but only that. To attempt to move toward remedying this divide, improved legislation and training must be put into place in order to aid police forces in their understanding and policing of their respective communities.