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Why body-worn cameras are not 100 percent effective

On the surface, it seems like a great idea for police officers in New York to wear body cameras, which would track their movements and behaviors and keep them accountable for abuses. That is in theory, at least. In practice, police officers do not always have their cameras on, and they can turn them on and off deliberately and with calculation.

In Minneapolis, police officers are now required to turn on their cameras as soon as they begin responding to a 911 call (this after the killing of an unarmed woman). In Baltimore, meanwhile, a body camera appears to have caught a police officer planting drugs (the officer apparently did not know the camera evidence would be preserved).

Police officers still have too much leeway

In the Minneapolis and Baltimore situations, two problems with body cameras immediately become evident. First, if police officers do not need to have their camera on when they respond to calls, what is the point of even having them in the first place? Second, if a police officer can turn them on and off at will, how can anyone trust the video as a neutral, fair source of evidence?

A police officer could have his or her camera on, turn it off to brutalize a suspect and no one might be the wiser. These cameras are designed to bring clarity to events such as police shootings, but, often, they do not.

New York pilot program

A New York City pilot program started in April in which just a few police officers are using body-worn cameras. Critics of the program point out that city police officers have too much freedom to decide when to turn the cameras on and off. As more time goes on, more and more officers will wear the cameras. At the end of the yearlong program, the aim is to compare officers with cameras versus those without cameras in categories such as arrests and citizen complaints.

The hope, or expectation, may be that police officers will behave better knowing they are on camera. That is the sad reality of society in many places today: Some police officers just will not behave well unless they know they are being recorded.

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