The Philadelphia Police Department seems to be joining a handful of American cities wherein officers are wearing cameras mounted to their uniforms, guaranteeing that all encounters between civil authorities and citizens have a digital record. Today, the department is starting in-the-field experimentation of the cameras.

Philly Now first reported on the program earlier this summer, and it appears that today’s implementation is part of that plan. In a statement released today, the Philadelphia Police Department insists that “up to thirty-one Police Officers assigned to the 22nd District will be wearing body cameras while providing service to the community in that district.” Those participating in the test “volunteered to be a part of testing the newest technology in policing.”

The 22nd District surrounds Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia, from Broad Street to the Schuylkill River.

Now, civil libertarians should cheer this development. After all, one of the main problems facing Americans moving forward is dealing with uncertainty in criminal proceedings, particularly events involving police officers like traffic stops. For instance, witness accounts of the same incident can vary wildly, leading national experts to call into question the reliability of eyewitness testimony and statements.

In a report released in October, experts from the National Research Council insisted that “memory is often an unfaithful record of what was perceived through sight” and that “people’s memories are continuously evolving. As memories are processed, encoded, stored and retrieved, many factors can compromise their fidelity to actual events.”

With body mounted cameras, however, those memories can’t be watered down, changed by someone’s innate bias or misremembered: They’re digitized and recorded real-time without prejudice.

Recording police interactions benefits citizens, too. Only through digital media was Philadelphia able to see firsthand some shenanigans of less-than-honorable officers. A few months ago, a Philly cop was caught cursing at and threatening a teenager. In that case, the officer later faced disciplinary action, according to police. And, last year, the world saw the not-so-charming policing techniques of former Philadelphia Police officer Phillip Nace.

Nace had a reputation along his North Philadelphia beat for what one citizen called “harassment.” In videos posted online, Nace was shown cursing at and bothering innocent bystanders and, in the most tantrum-like display, kicking over a neighborhood basketball hoop. Were it not for the videos chronicling Nace’s behavior, it’s unlikely the Philadelphia Police Department would’ve taken action.

They later dismissed Nace.

It doesn’t seem that the new body mounted camera program is a mere proof-of-concept experiment, either. The Philadelphia Police Department seems settled on this as an eventual policy, and they’re simply testing out various brands and styles of cameras to see which work best.

The PPD says the test should conclude in about six months, after which authorities will compile a report and make recommendations surrounding the technology.



About The Author

Contributing columnist

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His @PhillyWeekly column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” took the 2014 First Place Spotlight Award for weekly newspaper commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists and the 2014 Second Place Award for weekly newspaper commentary in the United States and Canada from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. He also blogs daily for PW on various topics including queer culture and news, mass transit, politics, crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, civil liberties, activism, media and everything else Philly.

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