In an age when citizens are recording all manner of police activity on their cell phones and then posting these videos on the Internet, the implementation of body cam requirements in all police agencies in the state can’t come too soon.
In the new world of seeing is believing, the days of automatically taking an officer’s word over that of the accused are over. As has been demonstrated in so many other ways in recent times, the public is increasingly willing to accept as truth what it prefers to believe, rather than the facts. That makes having a visible record of police encounters with the public so important.
Body-worn cameras will make the police more accountable, just as the footage they record will protect the police from false allegations and complaints. Nevertheless, rushing to roll out this program to satisfy the growing demand for more police accountability won’t produce the desired results.
Scholarly research of law enforcement’s use of body cams does point out some downsides, such as privacy issues and the need for establishing exhaustively detailed practices and policies, but the same research also says the positives make their deployment well worth it.
Ocean City Police Chief Ross Buzzuro and Mayor Rick Meehan have said they want to see the camera program implemented before the requirement becomes law in 2025. That’s admirable, but, as Buzzuro observed, there’s more to it than buying cameras and ordering officers to wear them.
As Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, said in a Justice Department publication on the subject, “If police departments deploy body-worn cameras without well-designed policies, practices, and training ... departments will inevitably find themselves caught in difficult public battles that will undermine public trust in the police rather than increasing community support for the police.”
An exceptional amount of work will have to be done before Ocean City can institute its body cam requirement. Maybe that will be well before 2025 and, then again, maybe not. Regardless, the police department and City Hall have committed to getting it done, and that’s an important first step. The public, meanwhile, will have to exercise some patience.