Police Unions Push Back Against Body Cameras

(RightWing.org) – Police departments in the United States started using body-worn cameras (BWCs) shortly after their British counterparts adopted their use in 2005. Proponents of the practice say it increases accountability and public confidence. Bowing to public pressure, the practice expanded in the wake of the deaths of Michael Brown and George Floyd at the hands of police officers in 2014 and 2020, respectively. All the same, police unions have been pushing back against BWCs by asking for increased pay for officers using them.

On August 20, The New York Times published an exhaustive report detailing police unions’ push-back on mandatory BWCs. Although they haven’t said much in public, labor groups lobbying government officials for pay raises claim they are necessary to compensate law enforcement officials for the loss of privacy accompanying their use.

Likewise, police unions also say the increased pay covers added responsibilities and duties that come with the mandated use of BWCs. Worcester, Massachusetts, City Councilor Sean Rose confirmed the presence of some of those extra burdens to fellow council members after accompanying an officer on their shift.

Rose said he supported the pay raise after observing the various extra duties accompanying BWC use. For instance, officers must dock the devices or otherwise transfer the data after any incident involving the significant use of force. Additionally, they must upload metadata regularly and concern themselves with maintaining proper battery life for their cameras.

Others, like Arizona State University criminology professor Charles Katz, disagreed with the idea of boosting pay for officers based on their use of BWCs. He called the union demands “literally laughable,” adding they aren’t “charging more for Kevlar vests.”

Katz also pointed to research showing that using BWCs has reduced the number of misconduct complaints successfully launched against police officers. For instance, a 2016 study published by Criminal Justice and Behavior showed a significant decrease in complaints.

However, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) recently published a brief synopsis of 70 research papers showing that using BWCs provided “no statistically significant effects.” The NIJ also called for more research on their use.

Either way, police unions appear to be winning the battle so far. An increasing number of law enforcement agencies have agreed to pay increases for officers using BWCs over the last few years.

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