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Body cameras: more than meets the eye

We all know what utopia is, of course. It's a perfect place, replete with realized potential of the most wondrous sort.

And then there is dystopia, its opposite, a word denoting a bleak and even frightful society.

One commentator for a justice center suggests that thoughts of that latter world might logically emerge for reasonable people paying attention to the progressively increasing use of body cameras across the country.

And writer Rachel Levinson-Waldman is not just referring to the cameras' adoption as a tool employed by police departments nationally.  Charlotte Mecklenburg Police have recently gone to full implementation of these devices.

They can be valuable for an experienced defense lawyer to truth-check a police officer's version of what the client has done.  However, they can also be first-hand, "bird's eye" of the client's admissions  and actions, including Field Sobriety Tests.  It remains to be seen how these cameras can be utilized, including how and when they get turned on and off.

Rather, Levinson-Waldman is concerned by what she implies is a slippery slope that is steadily leading toward mass implementation of such cameras in areas of public and private life that have nothing to do with law enforcement.

Like schools, child care centers and churches.

Because that is where we might be headed.

The use of body cameras by police departments is definitely on the upswing nationally, with what Levinson-Waldman calls "the newest darling of the criminal justice system" being touted as a panacea for reducing crime and police/citizen conflicts. Scores of millions of federal dollars have been allocated for camera technology, training and purchase.

Here's an ancillary point relating to all that zeal, though, as noted by Levinson-Waldman: non-police groups and functionaries are also beginning to use the cameras. Some school officers are wearing them. At least one school has purchased the camera for principals to wear while engaging with students and their parents.

"If they are being placed on principals," notes Levinson-Waldman, "they will eventually be placed on teachers," and from there "on child care providers, and then on youth ministers, on so on and so on."

Levinson-Waldman reminds readers who think such will not be the case that it is "not unusual for technologies to leap from one world to another."

And here's a related question germane to any discussion of body cameras: Can it ever be posited with certainty that what they are conveying is absolute reality that does not provide for an alternative interpretation?

To wit: Does a recorded incident always capture the entirety of what happened? When was the camera turned on and off? Was its focus unduly narrow? Unduly wide and generic?

Levinson-Waldman's basic point is this: The burgeoning use of body cameras should be looked at critically and not merely as some cure-all remedy that fosters instant proofs and legal protections.

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