Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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To the University of California: Body Cameras Are Meant to Be Used

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Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — these are just some of the high-profile, senseless deaths that occurred at the hands of police. There is no doubt that the police brutality they suffered still takes place today. However, testimonies, CCTV cameras and body cameras are just a few tools that bring these instances to light.

A recurring argument for the use of body cameras is that police officers are aware that these cameras are turned on, which might prevent them from using excessive force against an individual because they feel that someone is watching them. However, in a study conducted in Washington, D.C., researchers found that officers wearing body cameras were just as likely to use an equal amount of force as police officers who weren’t wearing them. 

While the prevention of assault and force is one of the many points that proponents of body cameras like to raise, it is not the only reason why body cameras are generally helpful. Although they may not be enough to prevent an officer from assaulting or even taking an innocent person’s life, body cameras hold officers accountable. Body cameras can serve as a tool for transparency, offering important information that can be used later.

Because of how valuable body cameras are for exposure and accountability, the new changes made by the University of California to the UCPD body camera policy are a cause for concern. 

In the proposed changes to the Universitywide Police Policies and Administrative Procedures, there are new exceptions for when police aren’t required to activate or continue recording with their body camera. Two exceptions that stand out are the exception to use a body camera “when, in the officer’s judgment, a recording would interfere with their ability to conduct an investigation” and “once a crime scene is secured and the officer no longer has an investigative role, and where the chance of encountering a suspect is unlikely.”

Due to their confusing nature and the ambiguous wording, these stipulations give UCPD too much power in deciding when to use their body cameras. Leaving body camera usage partially up to the discretion of the officer is dangerous because it completely misses the point of having a body camera in the first place. Body cameras allow outsiders to gain a perspective — albeit a very limited one — into what happens during police and student encounters. By giving officers the ability to turn off these mechanisms of accountability, these body cameras are basically useless; body cameras are only effective if they are turned on.

With that being said, police officers should not be allowed to make decisions regarding the operation of their body cameras; once they leave the police station, they should be switched on and remain on for the duration of their workday. These tools exist to watch over situations involving police officers and UC faculty and students; if their use becomes at the discretion of police officers, this allows for manipulation of facts. Privacy concerns only become an issue when these recordings are not discarded and handled properly. In this situation, the benefits of an unbiased surveillance system in the form of a body camera outweigh the potential privacy concerns connected to its use. 

Additionally, it’s surprising that UC has moved forward with sending these changes to employees and management for review. Given the events that unfolded the previous year regarding police brutality, many people, including UC students, have taken to the streets to protest the prevailing structure that allows officers to repeatedly devalue human life. In light of the recent police killings, one would think UC would adopt more policies designed to prevent police brutality and bolster accountability — not the opposite. 

For many UCI students, the presence of police on campus threatens the security and well-being of marginalized communities. In fact, the UCI Black Student Union (BSU) has spoken up in the past to not only keep police officers accountable but to keep them off the campus in general.

UCI BSU also created a petition last year in support of a Black biomedical engineering alumna who was violently arrested by police. Shikera Chamndany was just picking up her transcripts when she was attacked by UCIPD Sgt. Trish Harding and forced to spend a night in jail. The trauma Chamndany endured is unfortunately not a rare occurrence for minorities, especially Black students. 

With incidents like this, it’s concerning that the University of California is choosing to move forward with changes to the protocol that affects the UCPD. However, it’s not too late to dismiss the changes and take steps to keep UCPD more accountable. For an institution that promises to ensure the safety of its students, UC can surely strive to do better when it comes to protecting the well-being of all its students, especially minorities. 

In order to do this, we need to come together and agree on steps we can take to ensure that students feel protected on campus. While there has been fierce debate over the presence of police officers on campus, one thing that should not be a contentious topic is our priority to hold officers accountable. The use of body cameras isn’t enough to prevent police brutality, but it’s a crucial first step in making students feel safe in a place they call both school and home. 

Angelene Obedoza is an Opinion Intern for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at obedozaa@uci.edu.