Body cameras alone will not stymie police brutality

Though it's been rampant for years, police brutality has been all over the news recently. Between the New York Police Department's killing of Eric Garner to Michael Brown’s untimely death in Ferguson, Missouri, the vagåueness of detåails in these cases can make it difficult to know what really happened. Victims’ claims often contradict those of the police, leaving the public confused. Often, the victims aren’t alive to give their side of the story, which leaves the question of what really happened on the minds of many.

Given the publicity of these cases, a number of United States cities including New York, Denver and Rialto, California have begun experimenting with body cameras for police officers to ensure proper conduct. The idea is that since the officers will be monitored, they will be less inclined to violate citizens’ rights, such as by using stop-and-frisk when it is uncalled for.

The flaw in this plan, however, is that there is nobody actually standing with the officer and monitoring their actions. There is no assurance that the officer will not simply turn off their camera while acting unlawfully and then make excuses for the camera’s failure to record.

Human rights lawyer Chaumtoli Huq was arrested during a pro-Palestinian rally on July 19 for allegedly obstructing traffic on the sidewalk of a crowded New York City block in Times Square. Police officers reportedly instructed her to keep walking so she would not block traffic, but she refused because she was waiting for her husband and children to return from using the restroom.

Anybody who has ever been to or lived in New York City knows that there is hardly an hour when the streets surrounding Times Square are not crowded. Is it even possible to not obstruct traffic in a city like that?

Huq believes that she has been racially profiled for being Muslim, but once again we come to a point where the truth is unclear whether she was really approached under legitimate circumstances, or if she was being targeted because of the color of her skin.

Even if the act is caught on camera, what happens then? The recording would be shown to the police chief of the department, but there is no guarantee that the chief would release the recording to the public or to a higher authority. No chief would want to admit that his or her officers are stepping out of line. That would be a poor reflection on his or her lack of command.

It is the same concept as a doctor who has the ability to prescribe medication. These prescriptions are allegedly “heavily monitored,” but it is all too easy for the doctors to tamper with them and prescribe pills without justifiable cause.

Likewise, body cameras only ensure that acts of brutality can be recorded if and only if the officer does not turn them off. Even then, the police chief has the ability to tamper with the recordings even if the officers are under such restrictions. It is time for the police departments to step up their game, as it is clear that cameras will not be enough to ensure public safety from police brutality.