- - Tuesday, December 2, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

There’s no question that many bad thoughts and feelings have arisen and continue to rise in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri, decision. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, it’s a controversial issue that most Americans would prefer not to deal with.

There may be one good thing that comes out of this tragic mess, however. It involves using body cameras on police officers.

The family of Michael Brown, the young black man shot and killed in Ferguson during an altercation with white police officer Darren Wilson, made this suggestion. Part of the family’s Nov. 24 public statement reads, “We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen. Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.”

As far as I’m concerned, this is a good idea that’s long overdue. President Obama seems to agree. He wants Congress to help pay for 50,000 body cameras for police officers.

Some people could argue that using a body camera can be intrusive. This device also could be perceived as an invasion of privacy.

To some extent, that’s true. Unfortunately, the Ferguson incident and the ensuing days of unrest have turned these sensible positions into moot points.

Here are the positive virtues. Body cameras would be able to record an entire incident between a police officer and an individual or group of people. They would create permanent records of every finite detail that occurs. They would provide substantial proof of what actually transpired. Most important, they could be used in a court of law to defend either the police officer or the accused individual in question.

In other words, the blame game couldn’t be played. The race card couldn’t be used. The pro-police and anti-police groups couldn’t dispute the facts any longer.

Imagine if Officer Wilson had been wearing a body camera on that fateful day in August. His entire altercation with Michael Brown could have been recorded. Every image, word and phrase could have been evaluated and deciphered. The decisions made by both men could have been reviewed by their families, friends, average listeners, jury members or a judge.

No matter what was on that camera, the reaction we’ve seen in this small city in the Greater St. Louis metropolitan area and across the country would have been very different.

Could the record captured by a body camera be tampered with?

I would be surprised if this question wasn’t asked at some point in the process. The answer is “yes,” of course. The chances of it happening, though, are slim to none.

If a police department ever decided to adjust, modify or remove the details of an incident recorded on a body camera, for whatever reason, it would lead to a huge black mark on the entire U.S. police force.

It’s well-known that many police officers believe in protecting one another. It makes sense, owing to their position in society. At the same time, there’s no way on God’s green earth that they are going to defend any colleague who tampers with the evidence on a body camera. It would destroy their professional reputations and any credibility they have with religious, racial and ethnic communities.

As Loyola University Chicago professor Art Lurigio recently told Time magazine’s Josh Sanburn, the police know “they’re under greater levels of public scrutiny. It’s bringing this discussion of cameras to a more fevered pitch.”

Like it or not, a body camera on a police officer is the best way to prevent incidents like the one in Ferguson. It also would prove that a volatile incident between a police officer and an individual or group either was or wasn’t motivated by race and other factors.

That’s why I support body cameras. It would bring to an end the discussion of whether we trust the police to do their job properly or we believe that bigotry regularly tips the scales of justice. While I would strongly prefer that this type of Orwellian state intrusion not be necessary, I don’t believe there’s another option.

Hence, my recommendation is that police departments across the United States get the ball rolling and have their officers wear body cameras while on duty. Let’s put this frustrating discussion to a rest, weed out any bad apples on the police force and ensure that every American is truly protected.

If that’s the only good thing that comes out of Ferguson, we will all be further ahead.

⦁ Michael Taube is a contributor to The Washington Times.

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