Our view: Cameras don’t change their stories | SteamboatToday.com
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Our view: Cameras don’t change their stories

At issue

Digital cameras keeping cops and citizens safer

Our view

The greatest transformative impact of body cams may be on the court system

In our information-sharing culture, it has become a mundane event when someone proclaims that the latest electronic device has transformed society overnight.

Print journalists of a certain age are familiar with this phenomenon. It is difficult to recall how news teams formerly put out newspapers without the help of searchable databases, e-mail and digital cameras.

Laptops in police cruisers have transformed that profession, and body cameras are taking the changes further for patrol officers.



Now that we are all routinely under surveillance in retail stores, on street corners and soon by aerial drones, it’s easy to accept that civilian encounters with peace officers will be recorded as a matter of routine. We think it’s a safety improvement for all concerned.

The city of Steamboat Springs resolved 11 months ago to spend $35,000 to purchase eight patrol car cameras and 16 more cameras to be worn on the chests of officers. The cameras are capable of recording audio and of wireless transmission. More recently, the town of Hayden has earmarked money to purchase body cameras for its police officers in its 2015 budget.



It’s our expectation that the sooner local law enforcement agencies everywhere make body cameras standard gear for patrol officers, the safer everyone will be. That should be the case whether we are in the town of Hayden, the city of Steamboat Springs or one of Colorado’s larger cities.

Current events lead us to think first that police body cams will protect citizens from police using excessive force. But in the long term, the knowledge that law enforcement officers are wearing video cameras on their shirt pockets will do just as much to modify the behavior of citizens being contacted by police.

In the bigger picture, the changes that body cameras bring to the judicial system beyond the arrest phase may be even more transformative. The Washington Post reported early this year on the use of body cam footage in an assault trial where it helped to sort out the stories of the accuser and the accused.

The tape did not lie, but the participants in the altercation seemed to have changed their tune.

The same Washington Post article cited a study in Great Britain, where body cams have been widely in use for a decade, which showed a corresponding increase in guilty pleas. An under-reported positive result of body cams at the local level in Northwest Colorado may be the influence they could have on facilitating plea deals and paring down crowded court dockets.

We are increasingly persuaded that the potential for police body cameras to permanently alter not only the landscape for victims’ rights and those of law enforcement officers, but the judicial systems as well, is profound and for the better.

Body cams promise to modify the behavior of police officers and citizens alike, leading to an increased level of public trust in law enforcement.


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