Body cams can protect both the public and law enforcement
Recent news reports of shooting across the country have shocked the public. While Americans have unfortunately become accustomed to some of these scenes, revelations about the law enforcement response to the shooting in Uvalde, Texas have sparked unique outrage.
These events have caused policymakers to once again discuss the topic of body cameras as a tool for accountability in the criminal justice system. Body-worn cameras, commonly referred to as body cams or BWCs, are recording devices that can be attached to law enforcement officers to capture interactions with the public.
Body cams have sometimes been promoted as a way to “hold officers accountable” in cases of police misconduct. Body cams were promoted as one solution to address encounters that led to the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and numerous others.
But now, even advocates who were skeptical of these causes have come to recognize the value of body cameras as a tool for accountability for all parties involved. Creating an audiovisual record of police encounters can serve to protect not just citizens, but also law enforcement officers who are wrongly accused of misconduct. Bodycam footage can serve to verify witness accounts or testimony at trial, helping prosecute serious offenses.
While there’s tremendous upside to the use of body cameras, not all officers in Mississippi are equipped with them. State policy can have a huge impact on the use of body cams by law enforcement agencies across Mississippi.
According to Grading Justice, Mississippi receives a failing grade of F for its body camera policies. Examining this score reveals how the state could improve accountability in the criminal justice system by making body cameras more widely available.
Statewide policies regarding use, recording, and data retention. As of 2022, Mississippi has no statewide policies for the use of body cameras by law enforcement agencies. The state sets no standards for the use of cameras, recording policies, or data retention policies. If standards exist at all, they are set by local agencies and vary between jurisdictions. A recent review indicated that many jurisdictions don’t have policies, and those that exist don’t serve to provide accountability.
Mississippi ranks behind neighboring Louisiana in this regard, which does some limited state policies that require local departments to adopt usage policies and set guidelines for the use of data collected by body cams.
Additionally, Mississippi provides no dedicated state funding for body cams. This means that local agencies are on their own to provide body cams. To the extent local law enforcement agencies are funded by the state, a portion of those funds can support the purchase and maintenance of body-worn cameras to promote safety and accountability in policing.
Proceeds from forfeited assets can also be prioritized for the purchase and maintenance of body-worn cameras. Mississippi could dedicate a portion of these funds to provide body cameras and ensure that this doesn’t result in any additional costs for taxpayers.
Criminal justice is an essential function of government, and when trust in law enforcement is undermined, we all pay the cost. Body-worn cameras are a powerful tool that provide accountability and help build trust in the law enforcement process. Policymakers can make the state safer by ensuring these tools are available to every officer in Mississippi.
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