“If the officer had been wearing a body cam than Scott would still be alive today.” Those were the closing words of Mark O’Mara, George Zimmerman’s attorney, during a panel on CNN two days ago. Like with so many pieces on news programs today the setup seemed intent on getting a fight rather than a discussion out of its participants but instead everyone was in agreement: what happened in South Carolina was wrong and it was the right thing to arrest and charge the cop, Michael Slager, with the murder of Walter Scott.
Cameras on police are a policy that doesn’t have a downside. Agencies that have already adopted them use lethal force less frequently, receive fewer complaints, and can counter false accusations with video supporting their actions. It’s a win-win. Why is it, then, that those with the ability to make this happen just seem to be sitting on it for no good reason?
Technical limitations aren’t the issue. Size, durability, and data storage have all become better over the years. Like with so many issues in politics the problem seems to be money – but not because it’s lacking. Rather, it’s going to the wrong things. The proliferation of SWAT and paramilitary units in law enforcement in this country isn’t cheap. Whether it’s for the War on Drugs, counterterrorism, from military surplus transfer, or something else money is being given to and spent by law enforcement agencies… on issues that simply aren’t pressing for them (for a detailed look check out Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko). What is pressing in this country right now is what happened in South Carolina. What is happening right now is the erosion of respect for law enforcement in general because their priorities are in the wrong place.
The early 2000s saw the widespread distribution of body armor to not just combat units but everyone in a theater of war. Such a move didn’t eliminate casualties. But body armor was an essential piece alongside advances in medical technology, organization, and infrastructure that resulted in the most recent wars being the most survivable for soldiers in history.
Cameras on police won’t solve everything. They’re not meant to. Trying to move on without them, though, when the capability exists is irresponsible just as it would be for a military to send soldiers to war without body armor. They are one piece out of many in moving towards a better relationship between society and those who police it. For the Walter Scotts of today, yesterday, and tomorrow it’s time those in charge take that step.