Police cameras protect citizens’ rights

Footage plays a key role in a lawsuit against an officer who shot an unarmed man in June.

by Keelia Moeller

Last June, an Eden Prairie, Minn., police officer shot an unarmed motorcyclist he was pursuing in a high-speed car chase.
The 21-year-old motorcyclist was fleeing the officer at about 3 a.m. After pulling him over, the officer approached the motorcyclist with his gun drawn — a protocol for stops that are considered to be “high-risk.”
However, upon approaching the man, the officer’s gun went off. He blamed adrenaline and muscle memory for the incident, and the shot was labeled as accidental. 
A dashboard camera captured the shooting, which is currently available for public viewing on YouTube. Using it as evidence, the motorcyclist is now suing the officer for his injuries.
If the officer’s gun had gone off during the chase and not after its conclusion, I would feel more sympathetic toward his account of what happened. However, to accidentally shoot someone after you have already pulled them over seems to be stretching the definition of “accidental.” 
Still, I do not side with the motorcyclist entirely — fleeing a police officer and involving yourself in a high-speed chase with alcohol in your system is obviously an unwise decision. Regardless, nobody deserves to be shot once they’re pulled over. 
This incident illustrates the importance of police body cameras. Yes, these devices highlight police misconduct, but wearing them benefits police officers, too.
When piecing together what happened during an arrest or an incident of police misconduct, for example, camera evidence leaves less up to the interpretation of officers and the people with whom they interact. The cameras catch what happens at the exact moment it occurs. This may be why more and more Minnesota police officers are wearing them.
Not everybody agrees that officers should use body cameras, however. One common argument for discontinuing their use comes from the concern that they violate people’s privacy. A number of ethical questions surround who can rightfully access the footage and when officers can and cannot turn off their cameras.
In my opinion, officers should not have the privilege to shut off their cameras. This would compromise the point of recording footage in the first place.
If we should put members of any occupation under a microscope, it is those responsible for protecting civilians and upholding laws. Still, in order to uphold the privacy of officers, civilians should not have open access to all body camera footage on the web. 
Instead, body camera footage should be used only during court cases when the behavior of officers or perpetrators is questionable. In situations like this, the right to view the footage should belong only to judges, juries and lawmakers. Watching it, they could decide how ethical an officer’s behavior really was. 
Ultimately, enforcing the use of police body cameras while keeping the footage semi-private is an ideal way to hold everyone accountable for their actions. 
Keelia Moeller welcomes comments at [email protected].