EDITORIAL: Police need body cameras — turned on

York Dispatch

People tend to straighten their walks a little when they know they're being video recorded. They're also probably less likely to do something they wouldn't want their mothers or their friends to see.

Video technology makes us — when we're aware of it and we care about our reputations — better versions of ourselves.

That's one reason we applaud York City for its intention to outfit all police officers with body cameras by the end of the year, as Chief Wes Kahley recently told The York Dispatch.

The chief did seem to suggest that this effort was preemptive because of the likelihood that the federal government will eventually require cameras for departments who ask for federal grant money, but at least his department isn't dragging its feet.

"I think the difference it will make is ... it will back up what we already say about our officers — that 99 percent of police officers are doing the right thing," Kahley said.

The proof is in the playback.

The need for body cameras has been so thoroughly demonstrated by the numerous controversial deaths of people who were in police custody or being pursued by police, we don't have to enumerate the reasons here.

The plan is to make all of the officers — even the chief — wear the $900 high-definition video cameras, which also record audio, whenever they're out in public.

Funding could've been the major obstacle to outfitting the 103-officer department with the units, but thanks to a $100,000 pledge from WellSpan Health, that roadblock seems to have been removed.

Now, the hard part of this entire endeavor is crafting a policy that makes the cameras effective.

We share the concern of ACLU legislative director Andy Hoover, who said the cameras "just become a tool of manipulation" if officers can turn off the cameras at will.

The policy the city adopts needs to ensure the cameras are live the entire time officers are in public, or the cameras will only deepen the suspicions and fear so many people feel toward police.

Sure, there could be some exceptions. Certain victims and witnesses and owners of private residences are entitled to privacy. There are times the officers are entitled to theirs as well.

But only by limiting the number of exceptions and drafting a policy that isn't liberal with the off switch will the body cameras serve the purpose for which they were created: protecting the officers and the public.