The one policy idea that a huge majority of Americans have embraced in the year since the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is cop-worn body cameras. But how many police departments have actually taken on the technology?
The Huffington Post's Dana Liebelson and Nick Wing looked into this question, finding that only two of 27 large US cities — New Orleans and Albuquerque — have fully adopted body cameras, although most of the other cities are moving toward outfitting all officers with devices. Alissa Scheller mapped out their findings:
There are some major cities missing from this map, such as St. Louis and San Francisco. But it does echo the broad idea that while most police departments appear interested in body cameras, most have not actually equipped all their officers yet.
Why haven't they? Liebelson and Wing reported that most of these agencies are waiting for funding, comparing different types of cameras, or first testing the use of cameras with a small portion of their force. Some of the cities, such as Seattle and Minneapolis, expect they'll have their forces fully equipped in the next year.
Polls show that Americans overwhelmingly support body cameras. But there are some issues that need to be worked out, particularly costs, the privacy concerns that come with having a camera on a patrolling officer at all times, when the cameras should be on, and how accessible the footage should be to the public and media.
But body cameras have already shown a lot of promise. In Cincinnati, body camera footage proved that University of Cincinnati police officers' incident report for the shooting of Samuel DuBose contained a couple of false claims. Officer Ray Tensing claimed that during a traffic stop, he was dragged by DuBose's car and almost run over by the vehicle. The video later showed that Tensing wasn't attached to the car, was never close to being run over, and only fell to the ground after he moved away from the car. Without the video, it's possible that the public and prosecutors would only have the police officer's testimony to go on — and Tensing might not have been charged for the shooting, as he later was.
On the other side, cameras can be used to the benefit of police officers — exonerating them of false accusations, showing them saving people from fires, and recording cops while they get their Taylor Swift on (which, while silly, is humanizing).
The presence of body cameras also plays an important role, encouraging both police and the people they interact with to stay honest. Perhaps as a result, a study of Rialto, California, found that use of force incidents and citizens' complaints drastically dropped following the adoption of body cameras.
These are the ideal uses of body (and dashboard) cameras: They provide transparency and hold police accountable — through good and bad. But all departments will need to adopt the devices before they can truly fulfill that role across the US.