EDITORIAL: Pay attention to your taxpayer investments
A recent New York Times headline grabbed attention like a cop collaring a criminal.
“Think the Police Should Wear Body Cameras? That Will Cost Taxpayers Extra,” the main headline asked and answered.
This subheadline followed:
“The public increasingly expects that police interactions will be recorded. And police unions increasingly expect a raise for doing the recording.”
The article focused on Worcester, Mass., adopting a body cam policy for its 450-member police force. Worcester, like other cities in recent years, is facing a civil rights investigation, this one tied to allegations of coerced sex, stolen drug money and planted evidence.
According to the article, every rank-and-file Worcester officer will receive an annual stipend of $1,300 for using body cams.
Coeur d'Alene is facing budget challenges, as recent articles outlined. Fortunately, paying police officers extra for using their body cams isn't one of the additional expenses. Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls police officers use body cams, and they aren’t compensated extra for doing so.
But elsewhere, the thinking — and increasingly, the taxpayer-funded investment — is different.
Police departments in Nassau County, NY, and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are now giving their officers $3,000 annual bonuses for using their body cams. A number of other entities cited in The New York Times article recently leveraged higher pay for officers tied directly to body cam use.
One of the arguments behind the cam cash is that using them does require some effort, including the time it takes to upload metadata and drive back to the station to dock the camera after being involved in a use-of-force situation.
But officers are already compensated for that time. It’s not something they have to do out of the goodness of their hearts.
Most disturbing is the argument some unions are making that the body cams represent a loss of privacy to the officers who wear them. Body cams aren’t activated during breaks, roll call or other off-duty departures. What possible breach of privacy would occur when police officers are simply doing their duty, faithfully recording the execution of that duty?
Use of cameras is one of the best tools police — and citizens — have to ensure fair and professional law enforcement performance, provable in a court of law. That's a benefit, not a burden, for police and the public they serve.
The body cam controversy serves as a reminder that citizens are served best when they pay attention to how their tax dollars are being spent.