The Public Safety Review Committee voted to recommend that the City Council not pursue using body cameras for Madison Police officers. The City of Madison had allocated $83,000 for a pilot project that would purchase body cameras, in addition to another $50,000 that would be required to process the footage recorded by the cameras.
The premise of body cameras worn by police officers makes sense: if an officer is being surveilled, they ought to be more cautious with their actions, and it would be easier to obtain evidence that could be used to convict officers of abuse of powers.
While this seems like a logical thing to, body cameras fail to address the core issue: It doesn’t matter if there’s evidence from every angle — police officers have and will continue to get away with blatant displays of brute force against civilians.
Recall over the summer amidst the Black Lives Matter protests, which took place all over the country, there were numerous instances where police officers were recorded committing violent atrocities against civilians protesting — often actions that were unprovoked.
Take for example the police in Buffalo, NY. Two officers were recorded shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground who was reported to have severe brain injuries. In the video, numerous officers then continued to walk past the man, leaving him to lay on the pavement still injured, failing to assist him.
Despite video evidence that clearly showed the assault, the charges against the two officers were dropped.
The problem with the police is not a lack of evidence for their misconduct, but the fact that even if there is evidence, the justice system continues to fail the people it is meant to serve.
Body cameras are also prone to “malfunctions,” as some officers say, raising more questions about their implementation.
Too often, officers have reported that their body or dashboard cameras malfunctioned, or the recording of evidence was somehow so distorted that it would be unusable. The ACLU has advocated in the past that body cameras that police wear should be an additional form of evidence when investigating police misconduct.
Either way, it is unlikely that an officer would be convicted of abuse or misconduct if the camera was discovered to not have malfunctioned, as it would likely be considered “circumstantial” evidence that a crime was committed when the camera went out.
Suppose that the malfunctions of these body cameras are legitimate — the technology seems useless and prone to issues and therefore the City of Madison shouldn’t waste $83,000 on a technology that doesn’t work.
Further, say that many of these malfunctions are falsified, and officers are intentionally turning off their cameras. Relying on the integrity of police officers to keep the cameras on has already failed, and holding the officers accountable for keeping their cameras on has proven itself unsuccessful.
The culture surrounding policing in this country has devolved into a series of anti-protest legislation being passed. In Oklahoma, a bill was recently passed by the state legislature that would make it a misdemeanor to record police officers, and the charge would be raised to a Felony on the second offence. Out-of-touch legislators are pushing anti-Black bills that serve only to reinforce the harm that police continue to impose on marginalized communities.
It doesn’t matter how much footage of an event is collected — when too much of the country is focused on upholding white supremacy, we need to focus on uplifting marginalized communities and stop relying on systems that continue to fail those communities.
Ultimately, body cameras don’t fix the problem of police brutality. We need to refocus police spending on issues that can actually help protect people, rather than invest in some program that hasn’t really done much to prevent police violence.
Instead, the $82 million police budget in Madison should face significant cuts to invest money in affordable housing, childcare and youth support, senior care, mental health services, small businesses and any problems that the Madison community has faced as a result of the pandemic.
In addition, police unions need to be dissolved. Rather than empower the working class, police unions have stood in the way of justice and supported police officer’s violence against people. The police unions are not an ally to the labor movement, and they shouldn’t be treated as such when they continue to violate and promote fear against the working class people who they are supposed to protect.
Police officers are not trained social workers. They are not legal experts. They are a militarized branch of the law that imposes combat-style force that hides under the mask of “protection.” Less than 20% of police departments in the country provide “de-escalation” training to encourage officers to resort to peaceful methods of conflict resolution, and, either way, its effectiveness has been questionable.
Requiring police to wear body cameras would not do anything to take away the power of this rogue branch of government that upholds the power of white supremacists. It will only put a band-aid over a bullet-hole-sized problem — a bullet hole that the police themselves are responsible for.
Riley is a Junior and Editor for the Daily Cardinal Opinion Desk. Do you think police body cameras are not the issue? Do you think Madison should send funds into other services? Send all comments to email@example.com.