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Public Record

Police departments nationwide have begun to outfit their on-duty officers with body cameras. These small recording devices make great sense, so we can better judge police encounters.

And it turns out that not only do police behave better when wearing body cameras, so do the citizens with whom they interact.*

Yet, cameras aren’t magic. They do not work when turned off. And video recorded by police offers little value when tampered with or deleted.

On Monday, the Washington Post ran an in-depth feature about the 2014 fatal shooting of 19-year-old Mary Hawkes by Albuquerque, New Mexico, police, who pursued her for allegedly stealing a truck.

The Post explained that her case “has become a cautionary tale about the potential of new technology to obscure rather than illuminate, especially in situations when police control what is recorded and shown to the public,” raising concern “about whether a nationwide rollout of body cameras is fulfilling promises of greater accountability.”

Six police officers huddled in close proximity to the deadly incident — all wearing body cameras. The officer who shot Ms. Hawkes, however, had his turned off. Footage from three others “showed signs of alterations and a deletion.”

A federal investigation is underway.**

It is now obvious that cameras alone won’t suffice. Rules must require that the cameras be turned on — with consequences for non-compliance. The public needs access to the footage, too.

The Police Cameras for Ferguson initiative*** on the ballot April 4th does exactly that. We need similar legislation in Albuquerque and everywhere else.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.


* See Barak Ariel, William A. Farrar, Alex Sutherland, “The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Citizens’ Complaints Against the Police: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Journal of Quantitative Criminology (September 2015, Volume 31, Issue 3), pp 509–535; reportage on this study can be found here.

** The probe has already revealed that a former Albuquerque police employee has declared, in an affidavit, “it was routine for officials to delete, alter or refuse to release footage because of ‘political calculations.’”

*** Your support is still desperately needed to educate voters in Ferguson, Missouri, about the Police Camera ballot measure. Please help today.


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