You can thank smartphones and social media for bringing more eyes to police brutality. A viral recording of a policeman beating a woman on an LA freeway is one of many examples. There is even an app in the works for reporting police brutality.
Tech is being used to highlight disturbing police behavior, but can it be used preventatively? Michael Brown's family thinks so.
The Brown's brief response to the Grand Jury decision aims to rally support for their "campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera." We can only wonder if their son's fate would have been different if Officer Darren Wilson knew he was being recorded.
The idea is if police know they are being watched then maybe they won't be unnecessarily brutal. And Obama agrees, he is setting up the funding for up to 50,000 police body cameras. Obama intends on using the end of his presidency to "follow through" on police brutality -- and he believes technology is a way to get there. Do the police agree with him?
Chicago's Superintendent Garry McCarthy is in the same camp. In our "post-Ferguson world" McCarthy has vowed to have body cameras attached to the police force. Volunteers in Chicago will be sporting the body cams by late January 2015.
On the other hand the Miami police union doesn't want to wear body cams. A Miami-Dade Police Union legal rep has stated that such cameras will "distract officers" from their work on the beat. Sounds like the police might be concerned with any misconduct being scrutinized.
Some police departments in the United States even have Vine accounts. An outlet for police to share their civil service publically in video. Obviously they won't be sharing anything -- at least intentionally -- that would reveal misconduct. Law enforcement's use of social media is a far cry from being a brutality monitor.
One thing is certain, we have entered a time where tech could also double as a police watchdog.
Questions arise for how the body cam footage would be handled. Keep in mind that police cars already have cameras on them, and a lot of that footage doesn't reach public eyes. If tech should be used to monitor police interactions, then there must be an equally invested data management technology. A recent incident in New Orlean's where a policewoman turned off her body camera before shooting a civilian is a glaring flaw.
Police cams would mean our interactions with the police are also constantly being recorded -- sounds a bit like a surveillance state? Or are these cameras purely an opportunity to survey the police? Though thanks to Edward Snowden it seems we might already live in a surveillance state -- or something at the brink.
Using tech to audit police is a grand social experiment that awaits America. Luckily most social experiments tend to be revealing. Let's hope this will also be an experiment that works.