The Guardian reported last week that Miami Beach is planning on expanding the use of body cameras beyond the police to include “meter maids,” code enforcement officers, and building and fire inspectors. This use of the technology does not make sense.

We’ve always been concerned about the privacy-invading potential of body cameras. As we wrote in our white paper on the technology,

Body cameras have more of a potential to invade privacy than [other] deployments. Police officers enter people’s homes and encounter bystanders, suspects, and victims in a wide variety of sometimes stressful and extreme situations. . . . Perhaps most troubling is that some recordings will be made inside people’s homes, whenever police enter—including in instances of consensual entry… and such things as domestic violence calls.

Balanced against these privacy dangers, however, is the significant need to increase oversight in light of the long record of abusive and illegal behavior by police officers (and other law enforcement agents like Border Patrol officers). Police in specific circumstances are given the authority to shoot to kill, to use brutal force, and to arrest citizens—and all too often, officers abuse those powers.

I am not aware of any cases of building inspectors shooting unarmed civilians in the course of their work. The fact is, these jobs do not come with the frightening powers that police officers possess, and so do not need the same kinds of checks on those powers. Deploying body cameras on these workers would bring all the downsides of police body cams—including in some cases filming inside private homes—without any of the benefits. The balance is completely different.

And as we noted in the white paper, the privacy of the employees should also be factored into the equation:

Just as body cameras can invade the privacy of many innocent citizens, continuous deployment would similarly impinge on police officers when they are sitting in a station house or patrol car shooting the breeze — getting to know each other as humans, discussing precinct politics, etc. We have some sympathy for police on this; continuous recording might feel as stressful and oppressive in those situations as it would for any employee subject to constant recording by their supervisor.

Of course employers, including local governments, have an interest in monitoring their workers to ensure they are doing their jobs properly. But the pervasive monitoring that body-worn cameras bring would create an atmosphere of oppressive surveillance and intimidation. (Again, for police officers their extreme powers and history of abuse justify a different balance—and even so we have called for an extensive set of rules in the deployment of body cams, not just to protect the public’s privacy but also officers’.)

Apparently there has been some problem in Miami Beach with corruption among some of these civilian enforcement employees. But occasional wrongdoing by a few employees does not justify wiring up entire workforces with cameras, especially when those cameras will also be generating video of members of the public. In any case, a top city official told the Guardian that “the basis for the institution of the program is not to catch corruption, it’s to build transparency.” It’s true that “transparency” is a crucial value when it comes to government, but a vague citation of that value is not enough to justify this use of cameras.

I applaud Miami Beach for moving to equip its police officers with cameras (apparently in the face of some opposition by the police union). But they should stick to police.

View comments (15)
Read the Terms of Use

Anonymous

ACLU position on police body cams is right out of Orwells' Animal Farm. So how long will it be before the body camera lobby will have these contraptions attached to suspected child molesters, cell phone users in their cars, teenagers, everybody?

Anonymous

The Ferguson shooting initiated this experiment in the Miami Police Department, which is an agency known for exercising corruption and excessive force in the past. Many citizens demanded that police wear body cams, and over two thirds of Miamians support this experiment. Fifty Miami Police officers are currently wearing body cameras, and the University of South Florida, along with the MPD, is analyzing the video footage. After a year, the MPD will either expand or terminate the usage of police body cams. Some believe that police body cams are inevitable for the future, and in about five years police nationwide will be required to wear them.
Many people believe that police body cams are the most effective way to enhance police images and trust within the communities they serve. I am not one of these voices. I believe that improved police education and training regarding ethics, human relations, domestic situations, and community policing is the best way to enhance police-public relations. These cams limit police discretion, which is essential to proper police work. This experiment will provide empirical data by recording police-citizen engagement. It will also reduce officer use of excessive force. There are many pros and cons to police body cams, mostly revolving around government transparency versus privacy of officials and citizens.
One pro police cam argument not mentioned is that cams would give officers advantages when providing valuable evidence of a crime. They would capture witness and victim statements, and give investigators numerous looks at crime scenes. This argument can be countered by the fact that witnesses and victims are often in a state of hysteria when the police arrive, and information gathered from them is often inaccurate. These cameras would also be an unnecessary distraction. For police in dangerous situations, demanding that they turn on their cameras creates an unsafe distraction in life threatening circumstances. Distributing body cams to these workers would be another continual tax expense. Sustaining the exponential amounts of video created by these cameras would require tedious record keeping. I have researched this topic and would be happy to illustrate my scholarly sources.

Curtis P California

Dashboard camera's and body camera's are very necessary to document police officer's interactions with the public. Law enforcement officer's are above the law, accountability,transparency,reprimand,protection,reproach, and create the scene to protect our frat brother or sister, truthfully we all know it, recent police shootings without probable cause and video evidence does not guarantee justice will be served equally to law enforcement officer's, and that is the reality of today's society. This is a systemic problem with law enforcement across the nation, the duties of policing a community demand autonomy,transparency, accountability,respect,dignity,empathy and then we will have a little credibility in law enforcement. Law enforcement needs to change with society, Dashboard camera's & body camera's without law enforcement being able to review or tamper with video recording's at all. contact your local politician and exercise your right's.Please vote for a change.!!!!!!!!!!!! Push for a change in our system...!!!!!!!!!!

Vision Camera

Great writing it is such a good and nice idea thanks for sharing your article .I like your post.
Thanks.

Anonymous

Because many police turn off their cameras or videos are 'lost,' it's reasonable for civilians to wear their own body cameras, with continuous downloading to personal e-mail addresses. While police seize(or attempt to seize cell phone cameras citing these videos as 'evidence,' these videos are an individual's evidence, and cannot legally(in US) be seized without subpoena. With automatic or continuous 'storage,' each of us have our own records. There is no 'expectation of privacy in public for civilians or for authorities.

Pages

Stay Informed