Body Cams On Public Employees: Accountability Or Big Brother?

Body Cams On Public Employees: Accountability Or Big Brother?

America is wrestling for her very soul in these troubling days where corporations are people and guns are a god given right. We struggle with accepting those who are different than we are, and demonize that which we don’t understand. So in response, rather than settle our differences like reasonable adults we resort to distrust, innuendo, outright hatred, and sometimes horrific violence. Our answer to all this inhumanity? Let’s film it. Make everybody wear body cameras.

Earlier this month, fusion.net reported that an Iowa school district has chosen to outfit administrators with body cameras under the guise of accountability. The fusion story contained the following account.

Just a few months after Houston decided it would have all its school-detailed police officers wear body cameras, a school district in Iowa has taken the next step and pledged to buy body cameras for principals and administrators. 

The goal is to record interactions with parents and students, as well as student movements in the school, the Des Moines Register‘s Mackenzie Ryan reports.

Burlington District Superintendent Pat Coen, who could not immediately be reached for comment, told Ryan the reason is accountability.

 “Did we treat this person with dignity, honor and respect? And if we didn’t, why didn’t we?” he said.

Whom are we trying to “honor and respect” here? As a former classroom teacher, I can attest that teachers are often the target of abusive language from students and parents, and sometimes from administrators. Ask any teacher you know how many times angry parents have verbally assailed them, often armed with incorrect information.

The right-wing propaganda site cnsnews.com also carried a story on the body cams in the Iowa district and quoted Coen as well.

“The goal of the new policy is to ensure all parties are being treated with dignity, honor, and respect at all times,” District Superintendent Patrick Coen stated in the district’s official statement announcing the new policy on July 7.

But it is not just school employees having to wear these strap-on privacy invaders. The always present eye of big brother may soon be watching many other public employees as well. Last month, governing.com published a piece reporting that Miami, Florida would soon be issuing body cameras to civilian employees such as parking code enforcement, building inspectors, and other public employees who have daily contact and interaction with the general public.

Soon, Miami Beach will become the first larger city in the country to extend cameras to multiple departments outside of law enforcement. City commissioners passed a $2.7-million plan last year funding cameras for employees in parking, code enforcement and building and fire inspection, in addition to police. The police department started rolling out body cameras in May, and other departments are expected to follow suit this summer.

Most rational people concede that body cameras are a very good thing for law enforcement officers to wear. In the case of police, involvement with the public every tool available to expose the facts and truth of what occurred should be used in an effort to ensure justice for all parties involved.

The use of body cameras and total surveillance of employees, whether public or private, is a move away from what makes us human and towards more control of the employee. It limits the building of relationships which are necessary for humans to live, work, and play together. It lessens us rather than building us up. And there is mounting evidence that recording employees is not an economically useful exercise. The governing.com article quoted University of Albany Professor, Robert Worden, and expert on body cameras as saying.

“It’s not immediately obvious how governments are going to reap benefits,” Worden says.

In a school setting, where one would reasonably expect the environment to lean towards learning and openness to new ideas, restricting free expression with full-time body cameras will lead to less than open and frank discussions between administrators, teachers, parents, and yes even students, the ones who are supposed to be gaining from the school experiences. A progressive and modern society should be working to build trust and confidence between its citizens, not seeking ways to make them more adversarial.

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Ronald L DeGrove writes about politics and religion, the taboo subjects not to be discussed in polite company.