Ferguson fallout: A call for police 'body cams'

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National Guard Called In As Unrest Continues In Ferguson

BY BARBARA ORTUTAY

NEW YORK (AP) -- What if Michael Brown's last moments had been recorded?

The fatal police shooting of the unarmed black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri, is prompting calls for more officers to wear so-called body cameras, simple, lapel-mounted gadgets that capture video footage of law enforcement's interactions with the public. Proponents say the devices add a new level of accountability to police work.

"This is a technology that has a very real potential to serve as a check and balance on police power," says Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The case supporters make is simple: Cops and criminal suspects alike are less likely to misbehave if they know they're being recorded. And there's some evidence supporting it. In a recent Cambridge University study, the police department in Rialto, California - a city of about 100,000- saw an 89 percent decline in the number of complaints against officers in a yearlong trial using the cameras.

The number of times the police used force against suspects also declined. After the trial, the cameras became mandatory for the department's roughly 100 officers.

Rialto isn't unique. Across the U.S. and in England, Australia, Brazil and elsewhere, a growing number of departments are implementing the cameras, in addition to - or instead of - the dashboard-mounted cameras that are already widely used in police cars. Some one in six U.S. police departments now use body cameras in some form, according to ACLU attorney Scott Greenwood.

Should All Cops Wear Cameras?

The Los Angeles Police Department is testing the cameras and the New York City Police Department said this month that the department is exploring the feasibility of using the devices. The city's public advocate, Letitia James, has called for the cameras as a check on police misconduct following the death of a black man placed in a chokehold by a white police officer last month in Staten Island.

Cameras come with complications, however. It's unclear whether a police body camera would have altered the situation. A bystander recorded Eric Garner shouting "I can't breathe!" as police officer Daniel Pantaleo placed him in a chokehold. Garner later died. The city medical examiner ruled the death a homicide and the Staten Island District Attorney said this week that the case is going to a grand jury.

Although body cameras provide a record that courts and police can use to reconstruct events, there's no guarantee the footage will provide easy answers. There are privacy concerns for all those being recorded, whether it's the police officers, crime suspects, victims or innocent bystanders. There are also legal and procedural questions: Who gets access to the recordings? And what happens when an officer's device mysteriously malfunctions or gets turned off at an inopportune moment?

Experts including the ACLU's Stanley caution that with the gadgets must also come with well-thought-out policies, including guidelines that spell out how long recordings are kept and what to do in situations where footage goes missing.

"We live in a time when most people's reaction to any problem is `clearly, if we have an app or some sort of a digital device, that will solve the problem,'" says Neil Richards, professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

Richards says the notion that body cameras might solve problems of police misconduct is "naive."

"The problem is that we can't fix deep-seated social problems with a $10 gadget or with a million-dollar tank," he says.

The body cameras currently used in police work vary. They include devices that can be worn as glasses, including Google Glass, the company's $1,500 Internet-connected eyewear. But more common are the small, rectangular lapel cameras that attach to an officer's uniform and record audio and video with the touch of a button.

Taser International Inc., which says it is the largest provider of body-mounted cameras to U.S. law enforcement agencies, has seen sales of its wearable cameras increase sharply in the past year. Bookings for sales of the cameras, which cost $400 to $700 each, grew from between $1 million to $2 million in early 2013 to $11.4 million in the April-June period, says Taser CEO Rick Smith.

Taser's cameras are constantly recording, but the footage is deleted every 30 seconds unless an officer presses record. In that case, the 30 seconds before the officer hit record are kept in addition to everything else that's subsequently captured.

The recordings are stored on Taser's Evidence.com online service. Smith says the site is to the cameras what iTunes is to iPods.

"It's not the hardware that's difficult, it's how you manage the data coming out of all these devices," he says.

Brian Smith, a former police officer who is now assistant professor at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, expects that eventually every police department will use the cameras. He compares them to the now-common dashboard cameras used in police cars, which had their own supporters and skeptics when they were first introduced.

"Officers went from being suspicious of them, worried that they would get caught doing something - not terribly wrong - but (something like talking about their bosses)," Smith says. But he says they started to come around after seeing that the recordings could help prove false claims against them wrong.

"And also on the flip side, if we did have a few officers, bad apples, that did engage in misconduct, they were being recorded on camera," Smith says.

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Ferguson fallout: A call for police 'body cams'
A girl holds a sign as she protests the shooting of Michael Brown August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Crowds continue to gather to march along Florissant Road after Brown was fatally shot by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson August 9th. AFP PHOTO/Joshua LOTT (Photo credit should read Joshua LOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 21: After all other protesters were gone, a group of young men gather to strategize about how to better themselves and their communities and to mold themselves into civil rights leaders in a community roiled by the police shooting of an unarmed African American teen on Wednesday, August 21, 2014, in Ferguson, MO. The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown by white police officer Darren Wilson on August 9 has sparked nightly clashes between protesters and law enforcement officers that highlight the racial mistrust of the criminal justice system. (Photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO. - AUGUST 21: Emily Holloway joins protestors at Lincoln Park in downtown Denver, CO August 21, 2014. Activists from Anonymous had called for the 'Day of Rage' protest in cities across the country in support of demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri. Holloway said, 'I'm just here for the people. I love human beings more than anything in the world. and I can't stand to see them treated unjustly.' (Photo By Craig F. Walker / The Denver Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: Activists from Anonymous raise their hands as theyt participate in a Day Of Rage protest in front of the White House, August 21, 2014 in Washington, DC. The group held protests in other cities as well in support of demonstrators in Ferguson, Missouri. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 21: Police stand guard along Florissant Avenue to prevent a repeat of the unrest that followed the recent death of Michael Brown on August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 21: Police stand guard along Florissant Avenue to prevent a repeat of the unrest that followed the recent death of Michael Brown on August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 21: Police stand guard along Florissant Avenue to prevent a repeat of the unrest that followed the recent death of Michael Brown on August 21, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Captain Ron Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol speaks to media during a protest on West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson, Missouri on August 18, 2014. Police fired tear gas in another night of unrest in a Missouri town where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, just hours after President Barack Obama called for calm. AFP PHOTO / Michael B. Thomas (Photo credit should read Michael B. Thomas/AFP/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 18: Dr, Michael Baden points to an autopsy diagram showing where the gun shots hit Michael Brown as family attorney's Benjamin Crump (L) and Daryl Parks look on during a press conference at the Greater St. Marks Family Church on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 18: Dr, Michael Baden points to his head where one of the gun shots hit Michael Brown as family attorney's Benjamin Crump (L) and Daryl Parks look on during a press conference at the Greater St. Marks Family Church on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MO - AUGUST 18: The family attorney for Michael Brown, Benjamin Crump, raises his fingers to indicate that 6 gun shots were the minimum number of times the 18 year old teenager was hit during a press conference at the Greater St. Marks Family Church on August 18, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Unarmed teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A woman has her face doused with milk after suffering the effects of tear gas used by police at a protest of the death of Michael Brown August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Tensions still run high in the Ferguson community after 18 -year-old Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer August 9 on Canfield Drive. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17 : Demonstrators protesting Michael Brown's murder high-five each other August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death.. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17 : Demonstrators protesting Michael Brown's murder are tear gassed by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A man runs through the haze as tears gas fills the street during a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance on demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance on demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer try to stand their ground despite being overcome by tear gas on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A man is overcome by tear gas which police launched at demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A woman is helped from the street after becoming overcome by tear gas during a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his August 9, death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Tear gas reigns down on a woman kneeling in the street with her hands in the air after a demonstration over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his August 9, death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Tear gas fills the street as a demonstrator walks through the haze during protests over the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer, on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his August 9, death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance through a cloud of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A man covers his face to lessen the affect of tear gas that police launched at demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A person runs through a clowd of tear gas that police launched at demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator holds up his hands in a cloud of tear gas as police fire it at a group of people protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance while sending a volley of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance through a cloud of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A man gets help after being overcome by tear gas that police launched at demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police stand in a cloud of tear gas after the protest was attacked by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator throws a tear gas canister back at police after they fired the gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator picks up a tear gas canister to throw back at police after they fired the gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer stands in a cloud of tear gas after the protest was attacked by police on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrators protesting the death of Michael Brown runs amid tear gas used by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Tensions still run high in the Ferguson community after 18 -year-old Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson police officer August 9 on Canfield Drive. (Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Police advance through a cloud of tear gas toward demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police shot smoke and tear gas into the crowd of several hundred as they advanced near the police command center which has been set up in a shopping mall parking lot. Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson police officer on August 9. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police run through a cloud of tear gas after the protest was attacked by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: A demonstrator protesting the killing of teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer throws a tear gas grenade back toward police after the protest was attacked by police August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Despite the Brown family's continued call for peaceful demonstrations, violent protests have erupted nearly every night in Ferguson since his death. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
FERGUSON, MO - AUGUST 17: Demonstrators react as police fire tear gas at them while protesting the shooting death of Michael Brown on August 17, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Police sprayed pepper spray, shot smoke, gas and flash grenades as violent outbreaks have taken place in Ferguson since the shooting death of Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer on August 9th. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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