Iesha S. Nunes, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot”: Police Misconduct and the Need for Body Cameras

67 Fla. L. Rev. 1811 |

Abstract

The 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri is probably the most notable of the many recent cases in the media involving police officers’ use of excessive force. After Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Brown, varying accounts of what transpired between the two men surfaced. Officer Wilson claimed he was defending himself against Brown when he fired the fatal shots; however, other witnesses claimed Brown had his hands raised above his head in a position of surrender when Officer Wilson killed him. This case highlights the need for police officers to wear body cameras because the extremely different eyewitness accounts of the incident make it nearly impossible to conclude with certainty what actually happened. Did Officer Wilson perjure himself to avoid liability for killing Brown? Did eyewitnesses change their stories, or were they never actually sure of what occurred during the encounter? If Officer Wilson had been wearing a body camera, these questions would have easy answers. In fact, if Officer Wilson had been wearing a body camera, Brown may still be alive today.

This Note explores the effectiveness of body cameras and argues for the use of body cameras by all law enforcement officers. This Note also examines how body cameras can benefit the court system by increasing its efficiency in processing § 1983 claims that often arise from law enforcement officers’ use of excessive force. Part I discusses the endemic problem of police misconduct by highlighting notable cases. It also discusses how courts analyze § 1983 claims and the effect that faulty eyewitness testimony has on such claims. Moreover, Part I addresses the commonality of police perjury and the need for forced accountability of police officers. Part II examines studies concerning the effectiveness and benefits of body cameras. It also discusses how many agencies currently use body cameras and ways to increase the technology’s use nationwide. Part III considers and dispels various concerns regarding the use of body cameras, including cost, privacy rights of law enforcement officers, and the threat of misuse of the stored recordings. This Note concludes that body cameras are an effective means of protecting civilians’ constitutional rights and that the benefits outweigh the costs associated with using the devices. Body cameras are the future of policing and are necessary to aid in the fair administration of justice.

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