Video Providing True Transparency

Debates about video surveillance are usually fierce discussions. The biggest question is often whether video surveillance has the ability to be a force for good while still protecting the personal liberties that all of us hold so dear.

But, often lost in the discussion is the ability for video to provide real transparency, making all of us an eyewitness.  Can video provide checks and balances on those with power?  The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police believe that may be the case.

Following two fatal shootings in the past three years by Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officers, BART recently purchased 160 new minicameras that can be affixed to sunglasses and record two hours of activity.  This real-world test may yield results that provide video surveillance detractors and proponents with an opportunity to agree.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, the cameras are designed to capture interactions between cops and potential criminals. Officers must manually turn on the lightweight cameras, which would typically happen right before a conflict.

Once the footage is captured it would be uploaded to an independent website — Evidence.com — where citizens could review it. The technology is touted as a way to help capture evidence while also providing oversight of officers in the field of duty.

The program has even received positive reviews from the American Civil Liberties Union of California which said that it is hopeful the cameras will increase transparency at law enforcement agencies.

In the same vein, we wrote about a San Francisco Muni program designed to use video to monitor Metro line operators to enforce their employee conduct code that prohibits drivers from using cell phones while on the job. In the world of law enforcement where cases often come down to a “he said/she said” situation, perhaps the use of video will have the positive effect of protecting our law enforcement who put their lives on the line to protect us every day.  In addition, video will also shine a light on any police corruption that would both hurt everyday civilians and also unduly mar the reputation of the vast majority of officers who are doing the right thing every day.