Police use of force has been heavily scrutinized for more than a year after fatal police encounters with unarmed black men in New York City, Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other parts of the U.S. The increased attention has renewed calls for law-enforcement officers to wear video cameras while on duty. Supporters say the devices are needed to provide transparency, build public trust and provide evidence against false complaints. But as more law-enforcement agencies begin using them, questions emerge as to when they should be turned on and off and how much footage should be made available to the public.
In May 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it was providing $20 million in grants to help local and tribal agencies purchase and learn to use body cameras. The grants are part of President Obama’s plan to spend $75 million over three years to buy 50,000 “bod cams” for police organizations. Despite the national push, local law enforcement remains divided over the use of such technology, with some agencies blatantly resisting. Some of the agencies that have tried using them, however, are reporting decreased use of force and fewer complaints from residents. In San Diego, for example, a 2015 report based on preliminary statistics showed that body cameras helped reduce “personal body” force by officers by 46.5%.