Technology is changing the business of law enforcement. Because of DNA evidence, we know that far too many innocent people have been prosecuted and imprisoned. Because of cellphone cameras, we know there is far too much unnecessary violence by police officers.
Part of the problem is old-fashioned police procedures—an overconfidence in unreliable eyewitnesses and an emphasis on profiling and random-but-targeted stops. These problems can and must be solved; our states and localities need to adopt fairer and more accurate law enforcement procedures.
At the same time that technology has cast a spotlight on police procedures that require reform, technology can also provide some solutions—specifically small video cameras.
“Body cameras” can attach to officers’ uniform lapels. Dashboard-mounted cameras can be attached to police cruisers. The idea is that both police officers and criminal suspects are less likely to misbehave if they know they’re being recorded. In a study by CambridgeUniversity, the Rialto, California, police saw an 89 percent decline in the number of complaints against officers during a yearlong test use of body cameras. The number of times police used force against suspects also declined.
In addition, we need video cameras in police interrogation rooms. The fact is, every year at least hundreds of innocent Americans are convicted of crimes because of false confessions. Many more are imprisoned because of false confessions and later released. There are many reasons why innocent people “confess,” ranging from exhaustion to mental illness. Psychologists report that standard police interrogation tactics regularly elicit false confessions from the mentally retarded, mentally ill, juveniles and others who suffer from alcohol or drug problems, or simply don’t understand the legal system.
Electronic recording of interrogations helps to protect the innocent and convict the guilty. Aside from its investigative value, the recording can also verify that officers treated suspects fairly. Ten states and many cities and counties now require electronic recording of interrogations. In fact, then-State Senator Barack Obama, back in 2003, sponsored the very first state law requiring electronic recording of interrogations.
It’s only been a few years since all these cameras have become feasible. But they’re becoming smaller and less expensive all the time. It’s time to bring law enforcement into the 21st century.