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Body Cameras and Law Enforcement - What You Need to Know

Updated on September 23, 2017
Linda BookLady profile image

I'm the owner of the FightCPS website. I'm concerned about false accusations of child abuse and neglect, and the children involved.

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Law Enforcement Officers Are Being Equipped With Body Cam Technology

There are many violent crimes these days, and police officers in many municipalities across the United States are now wearing body cams to record their encounters.

Law enforcement involved shootings and killings appear to be on the rise although statistics are not well kept and many people say that there's no way to know exactly how many people are killed by police officers in the line of duty each year.

Many police officers find themselves in the position to have to defend their actions, so they find that body cameras are an impartial witness that will show exactly what happened in violent encounters with the public.

Do You Want One?

Are you interested in buying a body cam for your own use?

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Privacy Considerations

There are privacy considerations that citizens should be aware of when local police officers or other law enforcement agents are wearing body cams.

In general, video recording is allowed in public places where there's no reasonable expectation of privacy. See: Recording in Public Places and Your First Amendment Rights.

In two-party consent states, officers should inform people that they're being recorded and give them the option to stop the recording, especially if they're on private property.

Some police officers will inform the people they encounter that they're being recorded. Other will fail to do so - perhaps because it isn't required, or perhaps because there's just not enough time to mention it. I'm sure in an emergency situation law enforcement officers will rush to resolve the presenting issues, rather than immediately think of informing people that they're being recorded! That's human nature at work.

As a citizen, if you're faced with a police officer, you have the right to ask if you're being recorded. If a police officer enters your home, you have the right to ask for that camera to be turned off. This is a right given by the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Before you rush to request that a body camera be turned off, consider that the recording could be as much a protection to you as it is to the law enforcement officer you're confronted by.

Poice Body Cameras in Maryland

Poll: Your Privacy

Would you allow a police officer to use a body camera inside your home?

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Patient Privacy Laws and Body Cameras

Patient privacy laws will prohibit the use of body cams in hospitals and clinics, regardless of whether or not the person wearing the camera is a law enforcement officer. This applies also to any health care facility including doctor's offices, nursing homes, and pharmacies.

Patient privacy is regulated by the US Department of Civil Rights, and are provided in accordance with the HIPAA Privacy Law. In case you've forgotten, HIPAA is an acronym standing for Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This is a law that ostensibly protects patient rights in the USA.

Police in Spokane, Washington Get Body Cams

Police Body Cam Records a Moment of Terror

A suspect's moment of terror as he realizes a police officer is pointing a gun at him.
A suspect's moment of terror as he realizes a police officer is pointing a gun at him. | Source

How to Get Access to Police Body Cam Recordings

The method for getting police reports and body camera videos will be different in every state, county and municipality. You will need to check local rules to see what's available and whether you're eligible to get it.

You may have to fill out a probable cause affidavit and go to court in some areas. In other areas, you may just need to fill out a public records request at the department of public safety.

Check with your local police department on the proper procedure. County and city regulations may also be available on the web.

Your Opinion

Does a police officer have the right to shoot a suspect wielding knives?

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Disturbing Trend: Suicide by Cop

Many of the officer involved shootings we hear about in the news these days are "suicide by cop" incidents wherein the person being investigated provokes a police officer to shoot him (or her). Of course, it is usually a man doing this, possibly under the influence of drugs.

A Police Officer's Body Cam Records a Shooting in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

The following video is very disturbing; an Idaho police officer enters a residence wishing only to discuss a traffic accident. The man under investigation, 35-year-old Eric Byron Johnston, approaches the police officer holding two knives.

Though the police officer yells at him eight times to put down the knives, he continues to slowly advance until the officer, Spencer Mortensen of the Coeur d'Alene police department, is forced to shoot the man.

The entire unedited video is available at YouTube. I've chosen to post only a news report showing part of the incident due to the very disturbing nature of what happened.

Warning: This is a Disturbing News Report Showing a Body Cam Video ... Everything Can Change in Only 2 Minutes.

Your Opinion

Do you believe that body cameras are a positive development in law enforcement?

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Protection For Police Officers

Obviously a body camera can protect a law enforcement officer from prosecution and liability for officer involved shootings. Many body cam videos are already currently available for the public to see on YouTube.

When we actually see what happened leading up to a shooting such as the one that took place in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, it puts to rest the idea that the police officer was culpable for an unjust shooting.

There will still be incidents of unwarranted police brutality, but when officers know they're required to wear cameras, they're less likely to misbehave in that manner. Therefore the body cameras are a safety precaution that helps the public as much as they protect the police officers.

You're Being Recorded... Will You Be Careful About What You Say?

People who are under investigation should always be careful when talking to police officers and other law enforcement agents. We all know that per Miranda warnings, "everything you say can and will be used against you."

When a police officer informs a suspect, "You're being recorded," it acts like a "heads up" to alert that person that his or her words are going to be permanent. Most people would be more careful about what they're saying, wouldn't they?

A Protection For Citizens Against False Accusations and Police Brutality

When law enforcement conversations and incidents are recorded it is less likely that a police officer could add to the record with false accusations. Many times people have complained that there was something untrue in a police report, and that they were misquoted or falsely accused, or misunderstood.

With a body camera recording, the citizen could be protected just as much as a police officer, therefore most level-headed citizens could opt to be recorded for their own safety and well-being.

The ACLU released a statement on policies for assuring citizen rights when body cameras are used. They say that with the right policies in place, police body-mounted cameras are a win for all.

Another article worth reading on this topic is The Effect of Body Worn Cameras on Police Use of Force, offered by the Police Foundation.

Comments

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  • Linda BookLady profile image
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    Linda Jo Martin 3 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

    Hi RachaelOhalloran... yes - homes are supposed to be private, but a person can give up their right to privacy. Of course, with the camera on, violations of fourth amendment privacy rights would be easier to prove.

  • Linda BookLady profile image
    Author

    Linda Jo Martin 3 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

    I agree, Kylyssa... the cameras ensure safety for everyone. Too often the police have made mistakes and it is reassuring to know that they're less likely to overreact when wearing a camera.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image

    Rachael O'Halloran 3 years ago from United States

    I also don't understand why the cop didn't fire a warning shot into the wall or something. I hope he was both disciplined and retrained because that is really out of line.

    As for body cams, yes, I am in favor of their use. They protect the cop against allegations and they are proof for the victim (or suspect) as to the circumstances surrounding arrest or investigation.

    As for allowing it in the home, they are supposed to be for public areas, but I imagine if permission was given first, I wouldn't see anything wrong with using it inside the home.

  • Kylyssa profile image

    Kylyssa Shay 3 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

    I think these cameras are a great idea. Police will be a lot less likely to beat people up or shoot people or animals just because. Well, unless they have rage issues, in which case the cameras will provide evidence to be used against them.

  • Linda BookLady profile image
    Author

    Linda Jo Martin 3 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

    @someonewhoknows - You have some good questions. I don't know why he couldn't shoot at the guy's leg... something non-life-threatening. Why kill a crazy guy with a knife? When I was taking paralegal classes twenty years ago I was told that you can't use greater force... a gun against a knife just isn't equal armament. I just know that there are so many police shootings these days I've lost track of them all. It is like... almost every week I hear about a new one.

  • someonewhoknows profile image

    someonewhoknows 3 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

    Saw the video. Don't understand why the officer didn't fire a warning shot first or at least try using a stun gun.Then again I don't understand why the guy didn't give up.