Cameras on Cops Keep the Story Unbiased

Let’s put our body cameras to use, Minneapolis.


It’s no secret that the American public has a complicated relationship with our police system. Designed to protect, support, and engage our communities, police have always held a status of power. They put a human face to our laws and take a physical presence in upholding them. For a long time, I grew up admiring police, even telling an officer who visited my fourth grade classroom that I wanted to become one when I was older. As a white person growing up in suburban Minnesota, I was at a significant advantage. I didn’t have to worry about racial profiling, and from my few interactions with police, I had no reason to believe police weren’t protecting my community. Because they were…right?

Illustrator: Katie Heywood

The truth is, there is a massive disparity in arrests and confrontations with police due to race. A study done by the American Civil Liberties Union “analyzed [that] Minneapolis Police Department arrest data from 2004 to 2012 [showed] blacks are 11.5 times more likely to be arrested in the city for marijuana possession than whites and are nearly 9 times more likely to be arrested for disorderly conduct than whites.” These facts and figures reflect an underlying truth that some people still can’t come to grips with—the playing field isn’t equal. It never has been. Racial minorities have always had a more difficult time with police, this fact only encouraged by continued racial profiling and negative social stereotypes. A step in the right direction is an attempt to hold officers accountable with the use of body cameras.

Because policing is such a public job, it’s part of an officer’s duty to assure the public that they can, in fact, be trusted.

Body cameras are normally placed on the center of the officer’s chest and are activated when the gun is removed from the holster. With some of the cameras, this will emit a signal that automatically turns on the cameras on any other officer within a 30-foot radius. Minneapolis initiated a policy requiring officers to carry body cams in 2014. According to an article in the Star Tribune, “officers must upload the video at the end of their shift [and] the policy requires that body camera video be retained for at least seven years if an officer uses force or someone is arrested or receives a misdemeanor citation.”

So, police have body cameras—the question is why aren’t they using them?

There have been instances where body cameras could have been beneficial to evaluating a crime scene. Remember Justine Damond, the Australian woman shot in front of her home back in July? Officer Mohammad Noor responded to her 911 call and ended up shooting and killing her. We still don’t know the details behind the incident, but if the camera he had been wearing had been turned on, there would be no debate.

Because policing is such a public job, it’s part of an officer’s duty to assure the public that they can, in fact, be trusted. And while this can be annoying or frustrating to officers that regularly perform their job correctly, it’s a matter of safety. The fact that more and more uncovered footage of police officers taking unauthorized approaches when dealing with civilians accentuates the problem. Usable body camera footage not only protects the rights of the public, but it also protects the rights of the officers. We shouldn’t think of the cameras as holding a “Big Brother-esque” presence, but rather see it as a credible, unbiased third party. When faced with the facts, the testimonies, and a video depiction of what actually happened on a scene, we get the most accurate details of the situation. It’s difficult to misinterpret events as they unfold before you. We can see precisely what measures the officer used to handle the situation and compare them to tactics they were trained in. Video recording allows us to gain more information about the scene of an officer-civilian interaction than we ever have before.

We have the technology to make improvements to our criminal justice system. Using body cameras not only keeps our cops credible but keeps the story unbiased. Police are powerful figures in the community and it’s their duty to be transparent, and in doing so protect both themselves and civilians alike.