By John V. Berry, Esq., www.berrylegal.com
Police departments nationwide are beginning to purchase body cameras for use in officer interaction with the public. This, in part, is due to the advancement of technology, in addition to increasing civil suit liabilities faced by these departments. The law, so far, has not caught up with many of the issues that will arise or have already arisen. A number of questions are now being asked about the use of this technology and many legal issues are sure to eventually arise.
LEGAL ISSUES REGARDING BODY CAMERAS
Some of the initial legal issues that have arisen regarding the use of body cameras by police officers include the question of privacy, including whether or not an officer has to notify members of the public that they are being recorded. That seems to have been answered by police departments, and most likely the law, in the negative. Public areas have generally been accepted as open to such recordings. Other issues have arisen about the privacy of police officers (and their conversations) when not involved in an incident but where they are merely just interacting with other police officers.
POSITIVES OF BODY CAMERA USAGE
One of the major issues that the recordings will help to resolve mainly involves the issue of civil suits and citizen complaints. In our representation and defense of law enforcement officers, it is clear that the use of body cameras will more likely help than hurt in officer defense cases. Usually, claims in civil suits against police officers are not borne out when there is video evidence available of the incident in question. A great many claims are invented but must take their time through the complaint and/or legal system becuase no evidence to the contrary exists when claims have been made. For instance, if excessive force is alleged, most often video evidence will show that nothing actionable took place. It is the absence of video proof which has often lead to cases against law enforcement officers either settling or succeeding. The unique cases in the media which appear to show negative conduct on the part of a police officer are definitely the exception, and not the norm. It is likely that the use of body cameras will have the effect of vindicating officers from allegations and doing so more quickly.
The Department of Justice has recently published a good article on the issue of body cameras for police officers which should be read by law enforcement officers. DOJ Article on Body Cameras The article discusses many of the goals for police departments and law enforcement through the use of body cameras.
Many departments believe that the use of body cameras will eventually become standard procedure in the future and are preparing for this eventuality now. When a law enforcement officer is faced with civil/administrative issues related to their employment, it is important for them to have counsel. Our law firm advises and represents law enforcement officers in disciplinary and civil matters. We can be contacted at www.berrylegal.com or by telephone at (703) 668-0070. The Firm's Facebook page can be found here Berry & Berry Facebook Page.