Body Cameras: Is This What We’ve Come To?

images-2Body cameras will not save American policing nor will they help establish the trust and support that police need in a free society.

I cannot help but think about the popular movie, “Robocop,” when I see today’s police officer with full body armor and personal video camera.

I know this is a stop-gap. I mean what do you do when you have a situation like Ferguson (or Albuquerque or a number of other U.S. cities that have had a number of questionable police shootings)? The short-cut is body cameras for police. It is almost inevitable now that most of our nation’s police will be wearing body cameras within the next few years. Bad shooting? Distrust your police? Put a camera on them and all will be well. But will it?

Is this not a short-term, band-aid solution to a major problem?

It is a sorry state of affairs that when the public looses confidence in the police we outfit them like Robocop. What’s next? Try officer to station supervisor communication as one next step. The shift supervisor sits in front of an array of video screens in his office. Each screen represents an officer assigned to this supervisor. Have a question? Just ask. Tricky situation? Get instant on-line advice. No need to pay big salaries — no need for skilled decision-makers.

Technology will not save American policing. The only thing that will save our police is that they be carefully selected, well-trained, and trust-worthy. All this will take time. The question I have for Americans today is whether they want Robocop or a police officer who is educated and trained to make good, lawful and compassionate decisions?

Let me add this — the nature of the communication between police and citizens in a recording atmosphere will be greatly affected. What you will NOT see in a police video recording is the officer’s body language which as many of us know, is 80% of interpersonal communication.

You don’t have to be a social psychologist to understand that communication between a citizen and a recording police officer will sadly suffer in both its content and emotionality.  Policing in a free society is not some kind of reality show.

Body cameras may be necessary in Ferguson and other cities but ultimately our nation must push for police reform along the lines I outline in “Arrested Development” and begin to take the seven necessary improvement steps I have outlined there. To do this will take both TIME and WILL.

Here are the steps again:

Step One: ENVISION: Police leaders must cast a bold and breathtaking vision to ensure a distinguished future for policing.

Step Two: SELECT: Police must encourage and select the finest and the brightest to serve as police officers…

 Step Three: LISTEN: Police leaders must intently listen to their officers and  members of the community…

 Step Four: TRAIN AND LEAD: Police leaders must implement professional training and a collaborative leadership style…

 Step Five: IMPROVE CONTINUOUSLY: Police must unceasingly improve the systems in which they work–everything they do…

 Step Six: EVALUATE: Police must be able to critically assess, or have assessed, the crucial tasks and functions they are expected to perform…

 Step Seven: SUSTAIN: Police leaders must be able to maintain and continue improvements to their organizations…