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Body Cameras — Restoring Important Public Trust


With the recent enactment of body camera legislation, Florida has taken an important first step in stemming the erosion of public confidence in law enforcement– but more must be done.

Few can seriously doubt that behavior is likely to improve when it occurs under the watchful eye of a camera lens and there is an awareness that a video record is being made. Fewer still can contest the value of video evidence in resolving issues of credibility when the inevitable confrontations between police and citizens occur.  So procedures for preserving video evidence are a good idea, but it is a useless “good idea” if there is no video evidence to preserve, and the new law does nothing to mandate or even promote the use of body cameras.

Modern civilian peace-keeping has its roots in the reforms initiated in London in 1829 when Sir Robert Peel convinced the British Parliament to create the London Metropolitan Police.  The community policing concept upon which Peel based his social control concepts balanced the strength and discipline of a quasi-military organization by drawing its members from the heart of the community.  Peel’s “Bobbies” were not just soldiers occupying a hostile territory to impose order; they were part of the population expressing the will of that population to protect itself for the common good of all.

A cooperative relationship between law enforcement and the public is essential to any effective policing effort, and a lack of trust and hostility toward the police not only leads to ineffective policing, it can and frequently is deadly to those on both sides of the conflict.

Any measure that helps to restore trust in law enforcement is a move in the right direction because it helps good cops do their jobs better and more safely.

As Sir Robert Peel observed nearly 200 years ago:

“The degree of co-operation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force. Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”

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