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The Mike Brown Law: Will Police Be Required to Wear Body Cameras?

As the events in Ferguson, Missouri, continue to unfold, a proposed new law is being advanced for all law enforcement in this country, the “Mike Brown Law.” It would require all police officers to wear a camera as part of their uniform, so all their actions on the job would be recorded.

Image: The Prima Facie® Body Camera by SafetyVision

The campaign for the “Mike Brown Law” has already gathered over 100,000 signatures on a petition at WhiteHouse.org in the past five days. Here is the full language of the petition:

WE PETITION THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO:

Mike Brown Law. Requires all state, county, and local police to wear a camera.

Create a bill, sign into law, and set aside funds to require all state,county, and local police, to wear a camera. Due to the latest accounts of deadly encounters with police, We the People, petition for the Mike Brown Law. Create a bill, sign into law, and set aside funds to require all state,county, and local police, to wear a camera.The law shall be made in an effort to not only detour police misconduct(i.e. brutality, profiling, abuse of power), but to ensure that all police are following procedure, and to remove all question, from normally questionable police encounters. As well, as help to hold all parties within a police investigation, accountable for their actions.

They’re Already Wearing Them in Los Angeles – and Elsewhere

In Los Angeles, police officers have been testing these uniform cameras since the beginning of this year. Los Angeles police cameras can be worn on either belts or collars as well as on their sunglasses.

Tax money didn’t pay for them; donations for these police uniform cameras came from people like famed movie director Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks studio head Jeffrey Katzenberg. Over 600 cameras were expected to be used by the Los Angeles Police Department within six months of their introduction.

In fact, it’s reported that as many as 1 in every 6 police departments in this country now have their police officers wearing some form of video camera on their persons: either on their lapels, their glasses, their caps, or elsewhere on their uniforms.

Austin police officers were testing out cop cams on their hats back in 2011.

Privacy Concerns Over Police Wearing Uniform Cameras

For many, the trend was already pretty clear that police officers in the near future will be wearing video cameras, just like dashcams are found in the majority of patrol cars these days. However, that doesn’t mean that there are some valid and real concerns about cops wearing cameras.

For instance, there is a privacy issue. It’s true that citizens are videotaping police with their phones and cameras, just as police officers with uniform cameras will be able to record citizens in real time.

Will citizens being taped by police cameras argue later that their privacy has been violated by the police camera? Maybe. After all, uniform cameras are going to be able to record a lot more people doing a lot more stuff than a stationary camera attached to the police vehicle.

However, these cameras may also record private and personal information of third parties — and there may be valid privacy concerns to be addressed for these folk.

If a police officer enters your home for a search for Joe, and doesn’t find Joe there, then has your privacy been invaded if the officer has recorded every room of your house, including its contents, as well as everyone who was in the house at the time?

Has your privacy been invaded if Joe was there?

Evidence Concerns Regarding Cop Cams

For criminal defense purposes, these uniform cameras will be able to provide evidence about things like the viability of a search, whether or not Miranda rights were properly given, if there was probable cause to detain someone, and more.

Defense lawyers will use these recordings in the future to defend their clients against charges brought against them by these officers. If an officer does a bad thing and it’s caught by the camera, then the recording will offer a speedy resolution to the problem.

However, these recordings may be used by prosecutors as an attempted technological slam-dunk against defendants. They may argue that the recording alone is sufficient proof for a conviction and try to sway the court that not only is the recording sufficient but it’s also cost-effective and judicially economical to use.

It’s not too hard to imagine savvy officers and bad prosecutors (yes, they’re out there – read our posts on “prosecutorial misconduct”) using cop cams for their own wrongdoing.

If the prosecutor of Michael Morton could manipulate the investigation of a crime with a cop cam, would he? That’s a good question.

Cost Concerns For Police Officer Cameras

These cameras aren’t cheap to buy and they’ve also got maintenance costs to consider. The Los Angeles Police Department was outfitted by over $1,000,000 in donations from contributors, but not every community can expect this kind of largesse.

What’s so expensive? You have to buy the cameras. Then you have to pay for the upkeep of the recorded events — the data storage over time could be extremely expensive.

There’s also the question of who is trusted with that data; does it stay within the department or go to a third party? What third party — who is to be trusted with the evidence and the confidentiality and privacy of that data over time (maybe years)?

Exploitation Concerns for Cop Cam Videos

Finally, how public are these recordings going to be? Given the greater amount of information and access these police uniform cameras will be able to document, should these recordings be available to the general public?

Will police officer recordings of the future be just another realityTV show? What happens to the privacy of third parties (and defendants) here?

The Bottom Line:  It’s When, Not If

Bottom line, the question is not IF our local police officers and law enforcement in the State of Texas are going to be outfitted with personal cameras documenting their activities on the job — the question is WHEN.

From a defense perspective, it’s hoped that these police cameras help in the pursuit of justice just as dashcams have done. We can never know how much dashcams have prevented or stopped excessive force situations, for example, but we do know that dashcams have been a vital and important tool for defense lawyers in many cases where police officers went over the line.  (See Michael Lowe’s client in a very helpful excessive force dashcam video here.)

Will the Mike Brown Law be passed?  Too soon to tell.  But here in Dallas, we’re all well aware of the problem of excessive force.


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