The Corner

Let’s Not Panic About Body Cameras

During this afternoon’s press conference, the chief of the North Charleston Police promised that all of his officers would henceforth wear body cameras on duty. The Daily Beast reports:

The police officer who shot and killed Walter Scott was not wearing a body camera, even though South Carolina allocated $275,000 of a federal grant for the North Charleston Police Department to procure them after the outcry over Michael Brown and Eric Garner’s deaths. A total of 115 body cameras were allocated to the 340-strong North Charleston police department. North Charleston Mayor said Wednesday he ordered 150 additional body cameras by executive order and that every officer on the street will wear one.

Thinking on this question in the media and beyond has been somewhat fickle in recent years. After the shooting of Michael Brown, there was an outpouring of enthusiasm for body cameras, which, we were told, would ensure that that sort of thing could “never happen again.” After the death of Eric Garner, however, that support seemed to diminish somewhat. Why? Well, because it seemed that even when an incident had been caught clearly on camera, the outcome had been exactly the same.

Yesterday, the killing of Walter Scott demonstrated that cameras can make a real difference. Indeed, the Internet is today full of people who are reasonably arguing that, if there had there been no footage in this case, it would likely have been swept under the carpet. This, evidently, is the view of Scott’s family:

Mr. Scott’s father, in an interview on the “Today” show on NBC earlier in the day, said he believed that without the video, the officer would never have faced prosecution.

“It would have never come to light. They would have swept it under the rug, like they did with many others,” Walter Scott Sr., the father of the victim, said.

This dramatically ranging enthusiasm has always struck me as being rather odd. If the case for body cameras is good — and I think it really, really is — then we should institute cameras more broadly. If it isn’t, we shouldn’t. What we should absolutely not do is rush to judgment today, while we’re all upset; or abandon the idea next month if a dodgy looking killing fails to yield a widely coveted indictment. That way lies chaos.

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