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Keeping Cops Honest with Body-Mounted Cameras

San Francisco is just the latest city to try giving cops personal, ear-mounted cameras to keep everyone on their best behavior.

It's hard to know when police officers are doing their jobs well. There are real cases of racial profiling and police brutality, but at the same time, cops do deal with difficult and dangerous people, and sometimes have to make split-second life-or-death decisions. So how do we better identify—and minimize—true cases of police misconduct? Video cameras, perhaps.

Jeff Adachi, the public defender of San Francisco, has released several surveillance videos over the past few months that show the city's police officers breaking the law—conducting illegal searches and sometimes even stealing from citizens. The power of that footage in exposing bad cops has given the city’s new police chief, Greg Suhr, an idea: to outfit officers with personal cameras—small ones that attach to an ear like a Bluetooth headset, probably—to wear “before going into a drug bust or other arrest that requires consent or a search warrant.” The idea is that the cameras would make sure cops stick to protocol, and the footage could also exonerate them if they're falsely accused of abuse.

Neighborhing San Jose has already been experimenting with the body-mounted cameras, as have police departments in Cincinnati and the Seattle area. There are still some thorny issues to sort out. What kinds of events are recorded? Who has access to, and control over, the footage? But the hope is that recording confrontations keeps everyone on their best behavior.

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