Criminal Justice

Online petition urges Michael Brown law requiring cops to wear cameras; what about privacy concerns?

In less than a week’s time, more than 100,000 people have signed an online petition calling for a “Mike Brown law” that would require state and local police to wear cameras.

The potential law is named for Michael Brown, the unarmed man fatally shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9, the Wire reports. Because the White House website petition has more than 100,000 signatures, the administration is required to respond.

Investors are apparently taking the idea seriously. Taser makes wearable cameras for police officers, and its stock has jumped by as much as 30 percent since the shooting, reports the Washington Post blog the Switch. Another company that makes wearable cameras, VieVu, has seen police requests for free trials increase by 70 percent in just a few days. The city of Ferguson is a potential customer; it said in a statement it is considering the idea.

The cost of each camera ranges from $600 to $900. But they can be effective for police departments. A 2004 report by the International Association of the Chiefs of Police found that only 5 percent of complaints against officers were sustained in complaint cases when video evidence from in-car cameras was used. In Rialto, California, complaints against police dropped 88 percent the first year body cameras were used.

The technology raises privacy concerns, though the American Civil Liberties Union has supported its use, the New York Times reports. There is also a need for guidelines on how the cameras will be used, the story says.

The Taser camera is constantly recording, but it doesn’t save more than 30 seconds of the video or capture audio until the officer hits a switch, the Times says. The lack of audio before the officer hits record is aimed at protecting the officer’s privacy.

Lawyer Scott Greenwood, who consults with police departments adopting cameras, recommends they be used nearly every time an officer has contact with a member of the public.

An officer’s failure to record should be construed against the officer in any proceedings alleging misconduct, Greenwood tells the New York Times. He also recommends addressing privacy concerns for members of the public by exempting from public records requests any videos recorded in homes.

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