by Dalton Cox
Though the majority of US citizens support the use of body cameras by police, the logistics of equipping police with cameras have generated debate in the past several months. Such deliberation considers issues of transparency, privacy concerns, and cost. North Carolina lawmakers have recently proposed legislation to require the use of body cameras by some, if not all, law enforcement officers, and a recent poll conducted by Elon University found that 91 percent of the North Carolinians agreed that police should wear body cameras while on duty.
“Support for police body cameras is nearly universal and is clearly a response to increased media attention on police shootings,” said Kenneth Fernandez, director of the Elon University Poll.
In August 2014, Elon Police began using four body cameras, primarily to record the enforcement of parking violations. Elon police did not begin using cameras in cars until 2013.
“We were exploring this before Ferguson and before the national conversation started,” said Cliff Parker, Town of Elon Police Chief.
Elon Assistant Police Chief James Perry suggested the contemporary requirement for officers who are equip with body cameras to use the camera.
“A lot of the situations we have are very fluid,” Perry said. “If we get out of the car quickly and forget to hit the button it looks negative. It looks like we’re trying to hide something.”
This year, lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced legislation to keep recordings of police encounters out of public records.
The Elon poll found that approval for publicly releasing recordings varied based on respondents’ political affiliations and race.
Approximately 70 percent of Democrats favored transparency, compared to 48 percent of Republicans. Seventy-eight percent of African Americans respondents favored transparency, while only 58 percent of Caucasians favored such public availability.
The average cost about of a body camera is approximately $1,000, and the recordings from such devices are typically kept in the police database for 90 days, according to Elon’s Director of Campus Safety and Police Dennis Franks.
“I’ve had a positive response,” said Franks. “They act as an impartial witness and record both sides of an event. The only negative I can see to them is if they go down. Obviously, we enjoy a low crime rate and they’re just another tool”
Still, Parker described that the recordings from such devices were only a piece of the evidence considered in conducting an investigation.
“ We don’t just rely on one account,” Parker said. We look at officers’ statements, witnesses’ statement, victims’ statements. The body camera acts as part of the picture but not the whole thing.”
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