Recently, the Miami Beach City Commission decided to equip city employees with body cameras. This means that police, fire, parking, code and building inspectors will be wearing cameras to film their interactions with citizens.
Many cities have been pushing for police body cameras, but outfitting municipal workers is an unprecedented move for Miami Beach lawmakers. The initiative came after allegations of corruption among public officials and excessive use of force among city police. Tragic police shootings, especially in Ferguson, Missouri, were the final push for the unanimous passing of this action.
This program has been lauded for obvious reasons. Accountability is necessary, especially in places with a reputation for police corruption. The footage could also provide more accurate testimony for crime in court. This might prove integral in criminal trials because eyewitnesses can be unreliable.
On the other hand, this action has caused a lot of concern. Not only does it violate the privacy of public officials, it violates the privacy of citizens as well. Police can use their cameras whenever they please, and that means constant monitoring of city activity. That is a scary proposition for many Miami Beach residents. Another obvious concern with the program is its cost. The city allotted $3 million to buy cameras. This cost will increase as the program expands to more officers and technology improves.
After events in Ferguson and beyond, police corruption has ceased to be a problem we have the privilege of ignoring. It’s become a deadly threat that can unravel a community. When a neighborhood is on the brink of a similar disaster, there needs to be an immediate patch on the situation to ease tensions. This increased accountability could provide that patch for the communities that need it the most.
But the fundamental problem with this law is just that. This is a short-term solution to a problem that has been in this country since Jim Crow. It addresses no underlying causes. Police violence comes from a militaristic mentality.
Many police departments have a culture of viewing citizens and criminals as the enemy, as “other.” A person can be good or bad, a criminal or a victim, never both. The way to truly change this mentality isn’t by making police feel watched, but to rebuild trust in the community. Programs that get police officers involved in community activities like tending gardens, coaching youth sports leagues and being educational mentors may be more successful in repairing this broken mentality.
Annie Cappetta is a freshman majoring in political science and ecosystem science and policy.