The relationship between citizens and police officers is one of the most contentious issues of 2016. What are the boundaries of the law? How can we ensure people’s safety without compromising the work the police must do? What kind of accountability do these professionals need – and can such measures infringe on our rights in new and unexpected ways?
Though every person probably has an answer to these questions, striking a balance has been anything but easy for the men and women who risk their lives to keep us safe. For example, a growing interest in outfitting police with body cameras seems to be a fitting solution to questionable use of force and similar actions. Recordings of such events would make it far easier to condone officers’ decisions or determine if they overstepped their boundaries and need appropriate punishment.
How Police Body Cameras Work
The effort to equip police with body cameras has gained steam this year, and in general, it has been a well received by police departments, civil rights groups, and citizens. However, it has also introduced a wave of new concerns that legislators are working to address. For example, when must police record interactions, and who has access to that footage? What happens if officers do not use their cameras appropriately – either by filming in a private area or by failing to turn on the recorder before using force?
The need for this type of accountability is important. As these cameras become more common, the men and women who wear them will be expected to comply with all legal standards that regulate their use. It is vital that citizens understand their rights when and if law enforcement officials record them.
A Step in the Right Direction – Or a Whole New Problem?
Social rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union are calling for the incorporation of this technology to ensure that recordings of police action are available; this would facilitate any necessary legal actions against officers for using excessive force or unlawfully searching a vehicle. Some experts believe that body camera use can spur citizens to better behavior, making citizen/police encounters safer for everyone.
Yet there is more to consider. For example – can a police officer record you in your home? In San Diego, there are limits on recording victims and witnesses as well as limitations on whether an officer can record in a private setting.
- Police can and will record victims of domestic violence who present serious injuries. This includes children. They otherwise do not film typical interactions with witnesses and victims.
- Police cannot record in locker rooms, bathrooms, and hospitals unless the officer expects the need to use force.
- Police can record in homes without consent or notice. However, there must be a lawful reason for the officer’s investigation. Especially in regards to domestic violence or domestic disputes which frequently happen inside homes, this becomes a grey area of the law.
Other cities, such as Oakland and San Jose, have implemented standards that in general prohibit recording in areas where privacy is expected (e.g., community showers). In San Jose specifically, an officer must stop recording if a victim or witness asks him or her to do so.
Know When Your Rights Are Infringed and Seek Legal Representation
Body cameras will not be enough to deter crime completely on either side of the law. If an officer records you in a private setting or otherwise fails to comply with the established regulations, you may have the right to file a suit. If you wish to do so, you will need to speak with a local attorney who is familiar with these laws. This legal specialist will collect the evidence and testimony needed to protect your rights.