In my blog of September 21, I explained why the upcoming use of video cameras by Anaheim police officers will not provide transparency. State laws and court decisions will prevent public disclosure of the video evidence police collect. I also noted several reasons for spending $1,100,000 cited by members of the city council to purchase these cameras: accountability, trust, alleviating uncertainty, and decreasing complaints. Contrary to Mayor Tait’s mantra, “little is known about citizen attitudes toward body-worn cameras, most notably whether the technology increases trust, legitimacy, and transparency of the police” (1).
As a writer, editor, and researcher, I am struck by the absence of evidence to support the purchase of body-worn video cameras—about which so little research has been completed. “Scant research exists documenting the decisions made to invest in public surveillance technology” (2). And the evidence for using body-worn video cameras is scanter.
A study by the Office of Justice Program (1) concluded, “Independent research on body-worn camera technology is urgently needed. Most of the claims made by advocates and critics of the technology remain untested. . . . Most of the evaluations . . . have significant methodological limitations . . . or the study was carried out internally by the law enforcement agency deploying the technology.” The assertion by Chief Quezada (3) is entirely problematic: “The capture of video evidence during police-related contacts will greatly enhance the Department’s capabilities in gathering and preserving the best possible evidence and will serve as another layer of transparency and public accountability by providing a more detailed and more accurate account of events.”
The absence of evidence notwithstanding, Anaheim taxpayers have been forced to contribute an enormous amount of money to purchase body-worn video cameras in the absence of any substantive evidence to do so. A better approach would have been a comprehensive test of their use, equipping 30 Anaheim officers with cameras and assessing their effectiveness before the council going all-in.
I will address the elephant in the room—privacy concerns—and the use of body-worn video cameras in an upcoming blog.