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Outfitting police officers with body cameras is a bad idea

Body Shots

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For all the blowhard nonsense on the Right about the overreach of Big Government in our lives and on the Left about the erosion of civil liberties, very little is said about the absolute power of the local police in American life.

With all of the attention currently on police misconduct, there has been a growing call for police to wear body cameras. These cameras, supporters claim, will serve as a better method of recording the actual events of an incident than security cameras or dashboard cams in police cars. Body cam fans also say that the cameras may even act as a deterrent for bad behavior on the part of both suspects and the police during an arrest. Sometimes suspects act in a manner that require the police to use excessive force, and sometimes the police simply overreact to a situation (in some cases leading to the use of lethal force). Sounds good?

In regards to any civil liberty issues body cameras may raise, supporters note that we're already being recorded almost everywhere we go, by cameras both public and private with little or no oversight to what is recorded, by whom, or how the information is kept or how it is used. What's just one more set of eyes, after all? Unfortunately, few seem to suggest that what we really need are fewer eyes, not more.

And then there's the matter of paying for all those body cameras. After all, putting a camera on every single policeman in the country (or even the ones in larger urban areas) is not cheap. More and more localities are signing up for federal subsidies that will pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars it will take to purchase the hardware and the training that goes along with a body-camera equipped police force. This is the same sort of thing that happened with military hardware 20 years ago and look where that got us.

Speaking of paying for body cams, those are your tax dollars that are going directly from your pocket to the pockets of private corporations building these systems and offering this training. Congratulations, America, you're now paying for the police to wear glorified GoPro cams and get trained in how to use (or misuse) them. And at the end of the day, you're going to end up with more civil liberty problems and more videos on the nightly news of unarmed children being shot to death by the police.

Of course, there's an underlying problem that needs to be addressed here, and part of that problem is in how we view law enforcement in American society. For all the blowhard nonsense on the Right about the overreach of Big Government in our lives and on the Left about the erosion of civil liberties, very little is said about the absolute power of the local police in American life.

Aside from the bankers who nearly collapsed the entire world economy in 2008, no other group in America is as seemingly immune from prosecution as law enforcement officers. They can act with nearly total unaccountability and nearly total impunity toward you. After all, even if you are nearly beaten to death by an off-duty, out-of-uniform officer in the middle of a crowd in broad daylight for no reason at all, odds are really good that you'll be charged with a felony if you bleed on the officer's shirt and the officer will never be charged. That's the power we've given the local police in this country.

Yes, being a police officer is an incredibly stressful job, one that comes with an extremely high level of risk of personal harm. However, if we simply let that risk become the overriding factor when examining the possibility of criminal wrongdoing by an officer of the law, we are simply giving ourselves an emotional out in the midst of a rather complex criminal justice process. After all, that's why we cheer at the end of big, dumb action movies when the good guy completely skips the arrest, trial, conviction, and sentencing phase and moves straight to the execution phase.

While that's a completely satisfying way to end a film or TV show, it's certainly not the proper way to run a civilized society in the 21st century.

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