Police Body Cams Debate

On January 15, 2015, Karma Chavez held a debate on the resolution: Police Body Cameras are an Important Part of the Solution to Police Violence. More than 100 people and several media reporters attended.

You can see M. Adams opening speech here and Kabzuag Vaj’s here.

Audio to the full debate is here. Video is here.

Here are a couple of media reports on the debate:

Can Body Cameras Prevent Police Violence, Wisconsin State Journal

UW Hosts Debate About Body Cams, WKOW (also picked up by WVVA, WAOW)

NBC 15 Story

Amelia Royko Maurer and Russell Beckman were on the affirmative side and M. Adams and Kabzuag Vaj were on the negative side. Audience members submitted questions and debaters were only able to answer a small fraction. The rest of those questions are included here, and everyone is invited to respond to them using the comments.


Agencies working towards social change have limited resources. Why not invest in agencies to train and work with the police department to shift police department culture?

Do you think body cams benefit people of color?

The Sheriff has formed a committee to explore implementation of body cameras. What are your ideas that ensure privacy of victims of domestic violence and protect the privacy of those who witness crimes? Do you think exposing witnesses of crime will decrease their willingness to report?

Given the considerable cost of police body cameras (and the general acknowledgment that even if useful, such cameras would be insufficient on their own for protecting Black lives), what other use of any potential funds for improving police culture would you suggest?

Does this open the door for facial recognition technology to have greater access to communities of color, especially given that sometimes laws change eroding our liberties (i.e., PATRIOT Act)?

With the evolution of increasingly sophisticated facial recognition software, are you concerned about unintended consequences (higher conviction or incarceration rates) as a result of more cameras documenting lots of activity? What’s the balancing point?

Is there any danger that body cam images could be doctored or distorted following an incident?

If police have a greater degree of access to surveillance (and marginalized people are often denied or have limited access), what prevents a surveillance-based disciplining force from shifting even more power to the police?

Do you believe that the videotaping of Eric Garner’s death is what made it significant, and got the communities to hold police accountable and led to the “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe” movements?

Other than body cams, what practical ways can we increase police accountability?

How do body cams contribute to social awareness of problems in black communities?

Do we need cameras to provide information?

Are there examples of shifts in police officer discretion in other cities where there are no body cams?


How do you interpret the fact that local communities of color, including those represented by the people arguing against you, and seated around you, overwhelmingly oppose body cameras? Are they all mistaken? Or are you complicit in the pattern of those with privilege telling oppressed people what’s best for them?

What more are you hoping to learn about incidents with body cams? And at what costs (cost = the negative side’s points of those harmed such as undocumented people)?

DNA is objective evidence. Camera footage is subjective. What if it only reinforces prejudice in interpreting footage?

How can cameras be needed when crimes are already often recorded?

What do you want police to do to change the culture of police? A specific example.

What is the end goal hoped for in adopting the use of police body cameras and how else we might reach that goal?

You said cameras provide information. Would you agree with community instead of police having cameras since many examples you used, including the Black Lives Matter movement came from community info?

If police body cameras are implemented, what kind of legislation would you support to ensure that the footage, which is controlled by police, is exposed when needed by victims of police violence, but not used to violate citizens’ privacy rights? Is such legislation possible and would you uinge your support for cameras on such legislation?


Would body cams harm black people?

You said body cameras will not contribute to changing police culture because we first have to address racism. How do you explain the slow or gradual breaking of slavery or segregation?

I disagree with your statement that body cameras on police enabled for 100% of their shift is necessarily an invasion of the officers’ or civilians’ privacy. It could be the case that video taken during a shift is only used in the event of a precipitating event. Transparency is not equal to accountability; however, accountability is not possible without transparency.

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