All Washington Police Officers May Soon be Required to Wear Body Cameras

by Kenny Leon

Senate bill 5732 is still in its early stages, and being reviewed by the Law and Justice committee of the Senate. But, pending it’s passage in the Washington state legislature, the bill will ideally hold police and citizens accountable for their actions and reduce conflicting testimonies in cases by requiring officers on duty to wear body cameras.

The state of Washington is not the first state to begin having discussions on these matters. Legislation and measures to hold police officers accountable in the field has become a hot button area of discussion after apparent widespread police abuse of power has come to light through high-profile cases involving Michael Brown and Eric Garner. Many states are aggressively looking for solutions that will protect citizens and police officers while keeping both parties accountable for their actions.

Surveillance of some fashion of active duty police officers is not an old suggestion, as many grassroots movements such as the Peaceful Streets Project make it a practice to send out members to seek out and record active duty police officers to fight abuse. As a freshman student of Western Washington University echoed, “As police officers, they have a lot of responsibility to protect humanity as a whole, and with all of that responsibility comes a lot of freedom and privilege,” they said. “They are holding us accountable for our actions. There is no reason for them not to be held accountable for their own actions.”

However, many police departments have been reluctant to enact such measures. But, Lt. Bob Vander Yacht of the Bellingham Police Department seems optimistic that this mindset could begin seeing rapid changes. Since September he said that nearly half of the officers at the department wear cameras, and that since they started wearing them that those officers have been noticing the potential impact of wearing body cameras.

Yacht elaborated, “To have the camera system simply be in place to watch for abuse on the officer side is not what we’re interested in at all, that is not effective for us,” he said. “The way we are using the cameras now is to capture the behavior for evidential uses as well. And that has been very valuable to us.” The body cameras impact the behavior of the officers and the people they interact with as well. This seems like a positive step towards a solution for improving the safety for citizens and the officers; a win, win situation.

But, is it an unwarranted invasion of privacy? In an emailed statement from the Washington Chapter of the ACLU, Communications Director Doug Honig expressed issues with the bill, “It carves out a huge exemption from the recording provisions, allowing uniformed law enforcement to record even third party conversations without warrants or suspicion. This would subject untold numbers of innocent Washingtonians to an unprecedented level of government surveillance.” Honig included a statement from Shankar Narayan, legislative director of the ACLU of Washington. Narayan believes the bill endangers the Privacy Act, and said in a statement that he would like to see changes to the bill before it becomes law.

Vander Yacht is skeptical of the ACLU’s concerns and believes that, “A bill that purports to authorize pilot projects for body cameras should not make permanent, damaging changes to our longstanding state Privacy Act,” he said. “And it should create conditions for body camera pilots that emphasize accountability, not surveillance.”

What do you think? Will outfitting police officers with body cameras be a right step towards holding them more accountable? Or is it an irreversible path that furthers us closer to more unwarranted surveillance and elimination of rights?

[divider]Author’s Bio[/divider]

Kenny Leon is a geospatial analyst for Northrop Grumman where he analyzes foreign cultures, and helps create solutions for peaceful interaction. He has a Bachelors of Arts in geography and history from Stephen F. Austin University where he led grassroots anti-war movements and fought against wasteful spending by the university’s administration.

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