Police Video Should Be Mandatory and Public

Image: Zuzu

Image: Zuzu

I have called for all law enforcement officers at all levels to wear video cameras any time they interact with the public. But such a requirement is not adequate, as Radley Balko points out in a Washington Post article (hat tip to Paul Hsieh). Balko notes that, in San Diego, police have withheld recordings from the media and the public at large—which mostly defeats the purpose of having the cameras in the first place. He offers other similarly disturbing examples.

Legislators should require that law enforcement agents wear video cameras whenever they interact with the public, provide stiff penalties for officers who turn off their cameras or “lose” footage, and require that the footage be made publicly available on request (probably with some exceptions to protect the privacy of people recorded). Although I haven’t seen a detailed plan spelling out all the specifics, no doubt such a plan is feasible.

If the police knew their interactions with the public were being recorded, officers would be far more likely to behave responsibly. And if an officer ended up in a violent confrontation with someone, a recording very often would provide clear evidence about what happened. The only losers under such a system are violent criminals and corrupt cops. The winners are innocent people and good cops. So why would we not do this?