Mandatory Body Cameras on Law Enforcement: Just More of the Same

USA Today reports that a petition was submitted to the Obama administration advocating a policy that would require law enforcement to be equipped with a camera to record any interaction with the public. I suppose it would be something akin to a mandatory Google glass at all times for law enforcement. That sounds awfully good on paper. Certainly, the technology exists for law enforcement to audiotape if not video just about everything. However, such policy would not be a cure-all that it would sound like. Law enforcement already have the ability to record any conversation that takes place with a suspect or witness. Anybody with a phone, particularly a smart phone, has the ability to record a conversation practically any time. And many police cars are equipped with a camera that a police officer can manually initiate or which can initiate within seconds of the activation of emergency lights. Most police cars come equipped with a video camera to record interactions with the public after a traffic stop. The backseat of most police cars has recording equipment, and most police officers are equipped with the body might to record any interaction with the public.

And yet, I still encounter situations where law enforcement did not, for one reason or another, record what is reported to be an incriminating interrogation or, in the traffic stop situation, egregious driving behavior. In those situations, the police officer explains that he found himself somehow without the ability to record an event. Or the camera was out for repair. And when the recording equipment was not working so well, law enforcement agents report that my clients really began to incriminate themselves. It strains credulity to believe that there are so many mishaps with recording equipment in criminal investigations. But there it is.

And most of the judges before whom I appear are willing to believe this reported series of unfortunate events with law enforcement and recording technology. So for all of those proponents of body cameras, I offer countless examples from my own practice where the technology was in place but ceased to work somehow at the moment when it was needed the most.

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