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In Philadelphia, Widespread Use Of Police Body Cameras Remains Uncertain

They say that a picture is worth 1,000 words and this statement is particularly true when it comes to video recordings of police stops, encounters and arrests. In recent years, we've been reminded numerous times of just how beneficial these recordings can be when it comes to determining cases of alleged police misconduct and brutality.

The majority of these types of videos are captured by individual citizens who use cellphones to record what they see and hear. In other cases, footage from police car dashboard and body cameras has been used to dispute police accounts and justify the filing of criminal charges.

In fact, body cameras are widely used by police forces in many U.S. cities, and the use of body cameras has several documented benefits including:

  • Decrease in the number of reported complaints against police officers in cities and districts where police body cameras are in use
  • Encourages both residents and police officers to curb violent behaviors and use of force
  • Holds all recorded parties accountable for their actions

Use of police body cameras in Philadelphia remains limited and controversial. Questions contributing to the debate include:

  • How to prevent video from being edited or deleted?
  • How to pay for the video equipment and storage costs?
  • How long should video footage be kept and stored?
  • How to protect the privacy of crime victims and other citizens?
  • How to address concerns in neighborhoods about police surveillance?
  • Who should be allowed to view and access video footage?
  • At what point during an interaction should police officers be required to start recording?
  • Should police officers be allowed to view video footage prior to writing a formal report?

In light of these considerations, the question must be asked--do the benefits of widespread and mandatory use of police body cameras outweigh the possible drawbacks?

With the passage of Senate Bill 560, members of Pennsylvania's State Senate appear to have taken a major step towards answering that question. While the bill "codifies the use of body cameras" and provides clearer guidelines for police departments which may lead to more widespread use, the bill also places the burden on members of the public to prove why footage should be released and reduces the timeframe for when these requests must be made.

Read more about Senate Bill 560 and share your thoughts.

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