President Obama has proposed a new program to fund body-worn cameras (BWCs) for 50,000 police officers as part of a broader effort to address tensions between communities and the police that serve in them. While the plan would need Congressional approval, the goal is to appropriate $263 million in funding over a three-year period to create a 50% match for dollars spent on BWCs by local police departments.
As Obama is poised to set up a larger task force will focus on establishing a system for “21st century policing” to “examine how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust,” some have questioned how effective the BWC program could be. Much of the criticism comes from those who believe the action does not go far enough, with significant attention being placed on the federal government’s program of transferring military weapons and equipment to local police departments such as assault rifles, heavily armed vehicles, and full body armor. In addition, the President has continued to resist calls by civil rights leaders and some in the Ferguson community to visit the town, a move that would be viewed as symbolic as when President Kennedy invited Martin Luther King, Jr. to the White House after a bombing in Birmingham killed four black girls.
Will cameras placed on the police make them act in a more accountable manner? Does the presence of BWCs create a new objectivity for interactions between citizens and law enforcement? Will the placement of BWCs be enough to stem the tensions between minority communities and the criminal justice system?
Sergeant Daniel (Dan) Gomez, Lead officer in the information technology division, LAPD
Jay Stanley, Senior Policy Analyst with the Speech, Privacy and Technology Project at The American Civil Liberties Union; Stanley authored the ACLU's white paper on police body-worn cameras.