I’ve occasionally posted news stories about some citizen being charged for using their cell phone or a head cam to record police officers while they are on duty. In some cases, the charges are premised on state laws that prohibit audio recording of a person without their consent. Now a new article by David A. Harris of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law suggests considering having police in the U.S. wear “head cams” to record interactions with the public as a way of protecting both the police and the public. The system has already been field-tested in the U.K. and to some extent, here in the U.S., as in San Jose. From Harris’ article, which will appear in the Texas Tech Law Review, the abstract:
A new technology has emerged with the potential to increase police compliance with the law and to increase officers’ accountability for their conduct. Called “body worn video” (BWV) or “head cams,” these devices are smaller, lighter versions of the video and audio recording systems mounted on the dash boards of police cars. These systems are small enough that they consist of something the size and shape of a cellular telephone earpiece, and are worn by police officers the same way. Recordings are downloaded directly from the device into a central computer system for storage and indexing, which protects them from tampering and assures a defensible chain of custody.
This article explores the good that BWV can do for both the police and members of the public, particularly how these recordings might play a role in assuring that officers comply with Fourth Amendment search and seizure rules. Field tests of BWV in Britain have shown that police used the devices to keep records and record evidence, and that the devices were a uniquely effective bulwark against false complaints. Coupled with a requirement that every citizen encounter involving a search or seizure be recorded, and a presumption that without a recording the factfinder must draw inferences in favor of the defendant, BWV can help resolve disputes over search and seizure activities, and give the public a heretofore unattainable degree of assurance that police officers enforcing the law obey it as they do so. While BWV is certainly no panacea, and presents significant issues of tampering and reliability, it can help bring accountability and rule following to an aspect of police behavior that has largely proven resistant to it.
Download the full article from SSRN.