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Chris Schillig: Candid camera for cops

Alliance Review Published: August 24, 2014 4:00 AM

Two words for officials sorting through the wreckage of failed policies that led to Ferguson, Missouri -- wearable technology.

It beggars the imagination that police officers in every city and township aren't outfitted with devices that allow them to record interactions with the public. If the police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown had been wearing such a device, investigators and the public would have access to vastly more information than they now do. This could help determine if the officer was truly threatened or if he overreacted.

A quick Internet search revealed a number of rugged cameras that would fit the bill. For example, a company called VIEWU sells a model that offers more than two hours of filming at lower resolutions, 16 gigabytes of internal storage, and the ability to stream video to smartphones. It retails at $349.

Officers need not have the cameras on at all times, but when interacting with the public, should it be required. Worn on the uniform, the device could augment dashboard-mounted cameras and be another set of eyes in volatile situations.

If evidence in the Ferguson case showed that Brown had reached for the officer's gun or acted in an otherwise aggressive fashion, protesters would have much less to be upset about. If it showed that the officer gunned down the young man with no provocation, official justice could be meted out more efficiently, thereby quelling the violence residents were subjected to over the weekend.

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Similarly, suspects and alleged perpetrators might be less likely to react with violence or insubordination if they see that they are being recorded. They may feel some solace that a camera is recording an exchange, thereby protecting their rights.

Critics might argue that the cost of outfitting each officer with a camera in cash-strapped police departments is exorbitant. But when compared to the cost of, say, having state troopers and then the National Guard occupy your city, militarizing police departments (which is happening with alarming regularity around the country), arresting dozens of people and defending officers in court over wrongful death lawsuits, the cost of cameras pales.

Of course, cameras can't fix stupid. Tempers will flare on both sides of the line -- police and alleged perpetrators -- and sometimes mistakes are made.

Similarly, cameras are no substitute for continued conversations about policing, minorities, and whether cops treat suspects differently because of race. I'd like to think that most don't, but racial divides run deep, and people who say we are a post-racial America merely because we elected a president of color are fooling themselves. Town-hall meetings should be popping up all over the country to allow residents and police to talk about these concerns.

As for Ferguson, the arrival of Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson over the weekend is a hopeful sign. Johnson said all the right things, demonstrating empathy for the family of the victim and fear for his own son, who fits the profile of what some people would see as inherently dangerous: black, with sagging pants and tattoos. It wasn't enough, however, to quell violence in the early hours of Monday morning.

I hope Johnson will be allowed to follow through on his vow to allow protesters to have a peaceful, yet insistent, voice in Ferguson. It is their right as Americans, and the act they are protesting sheds light on a tragic truth in 21st-century America -- that merely being black is too often a crime.

If or how that applies in the specific case in Ferguson would be better known if officers in that community wore cameras.

Police officers do a tough job for little pay and little recognition. Cameras aren't a cure-all, but they are a start to providing security to police and the public.

Chris Schillig is an Alliance area educator and journalist. Contact him at chris.schillig@yahoo.com or cschillig on Twitter

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TaggR Aug 24, 2014 10:03 PM

hey red, Big Brother has already begun putting cameras in classrooms. They have them on school buses. Big Brother has begun putting them on cars. Your comment below is lacking substance.

redleg6 Aug 24, 2014 12:49 PM

From above: Cameras aren't a cure-all, but they are a start to providing security to police and the public.......

Why stop at the police?

Lets make it mandatory for EDUCATORS to wear cannid cameras in the classroom.

I know it is not a cure-all, but if your kid had trouble in the classroom that day, you could watch the video....

If you can't trust your local police, why would you trust a teacher?

Besides, It's for the childrens/teachers security and safety

GTO Aug 24, 2014 11:00 AM

  Police departments across the nation are equipping their officers with cameras for the same reasons stated above. It is a great idea. Just imagine all the money we taxpayers could save from unfounded lawsuit cases.

  Had the officer involved in the shooting in Ferguson been wearing a camera to record what happened, it absolutely  would of changed the reaction of the community and nation. Possibly preventing the riots and backlash that is taking place.

anonymous_54702 Aug 24, 2014 9:07 AM

This opinion is dumb... Do you really think for one minute, that there would have been no riots if the Furguson officer was wearing a body camera?? Really?? Cops not wearing cameras is not the core problem. Media sensationalism and race baiting activists like Al Sharpton and  criminals who "never let a good tragedy go to waste" is what keeps racial tension high in our country. Racism is big business in America. Body cameras on cops wont fix that..