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Police unions and sellers of body cameras argue that these cameras are “necessary” to protect officers from unwarranted accusations of misconduct and to show encounters from the officer’s point of view.ROCHESTER PD/Reuters

Christopher J. Schneider is professor of sociology at Brandon University and author of Policing and Social Media: Social Control in an Era of New Media.

The murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in the death of George Floyd, is winding down. And there is sure to be an increase in discussion of body-worn cameras for police following the end of the trial.

In March, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the George Floyd Police Reform Bill, which would mandate uniformed federal law enforcement officers to wear body-worn cameras. But the research on the efficacy of body-worn cameras is inconclusive and the cameras themselves will not reform policing. Across locations in the U.S. (and elsewhere) body-worn cameras appeared to increase police use of force in some places, but decrease it in other cases. Similar mixed findings appear regarding citizen complaints. Mr. Chauvin, for his part, was wearing a camera when he kneeled on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

But amid this lack of clarity, some jurisdictions in the U.S. have already begun giving police officers bonus pay just for wearing a camera, quietly increasing the already significant cost of police salaries and compensation. Officers in Suffolk County, N.Y., already receive an additional 2.5 per cent in pay for wearing body cameras. In 2016, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) received a 1 per cent salary boost that was tied to the mandating of body-worn cameras (as an aside, the LVMPD also charges the public a fee of nearly $300 for each hour of camera footage provided). In Philadelphia, police are currently demanding a 5 per cent “accountability pay” increase for wearing body cameras.

This trend – which is, in some cases, costing taxpayers millions of extra dollars per year – is likely to continue in the United States. Canadians should pay close attention as the use of body-worn cameras expands across the country and is promoted in cities like Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Police unions and sellers of body cameras argue that these cameras are “necessary” to protect officers from unwarranted accusations of misconduct and to show encounters from the officer’s point of view. But on the other hand, to support their demands for additional compensation, police unions argue that body cameras represent a material change in working conditions and, as such, impose a burden on officers by adding to on-the-job stress.

“Everything that you say out on a call is there. You have a lot more pressure put on to be extremely accurate with your reports,” Jeff Piedmonte, the president of the Syracuse Police Benevolent Association, said in March, 2019. He continued: “If the department is going to discipline [officers] for getting out of the car and forgetting to turn [the body cameras on] they should be able to pay them more when they have them on.”

The individual officer’s ability to turn their body-worn cameras on and off again already seriously complicates expectations associated with police accountability. If the public is denied access to body-camera footage, cannot afford to pay for access to the footage, or no footage exists, it is even more difficult to hold officers responsible for any potential misconduct.

Reports should always be extremely accurate, and officers should be held accountable when they do not follow workplace rules (such as forgetting to switch their camera on), just like any employee of any organization. Increased compensation for police officers merely for the idea of being accountable to their community while doing work involving life-or-death situations is an absurdity. It suggests that police officers deserve to be rewarded with special treatment in exchange for simply doing the job they are already being paid to do.

The taxpaying public must pay for police body-worn cameras, storage of data and access to footage – and now, they also may have to pay officers higher salaries to wear the cameras. This all seems a bit much. If we expect school teachers and educators to pay for their own teaching supplies just to do their job, it seems perfectly reasonable that we should also let police officers pay for their own body-worn cameras – or, at the very least, expect them to wear and use them without additional compensation.

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