At a recent Senate hearing, the officer-in-charge of the Philippine National Police cautioned senators against assuming the worst about law enforcers when they draft a law on the use of body cameras.
Police Lt. Gen. Archie Francisco Gamboa said if the law were drafted on the premise, this might put too many limits on the operational efficiency of the police.
“I hope when crafting the body-worn camera law, it would not be premised that there is EJK (extrajudicial killings) in [the] Philippines, there are unsolved killings. We should presume that the work of the government, especially the Philippine National Police, is regular,” he said.
“If the premise is that we are up to no good, the law will be crafted in such a way that it is too strict,” he added in a mix of English and Filipino.
The PNP OIC’s request is odd, given that body cameras have been introduced in several countries—Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom, precisely to improve police performance and to curb abuses.
So far, the record is mixed, with several studies in the United States showing that the use of body cameras by police officers reduced the number of citizen complaints about them, and significantly cut the “use-of-force” incidents. But body camera regulations in other cities showed little change in the behavior of police officers or the number of complaints against them.
In 2019, a team of researchers published the most comprehensive overview to date of the impact of body-worn cameras. They based their overview on 70 empirical studies, most from US jurisdictions, and focused on officer behavior, officer perceptions, citizen behavior, citizen perceptions, police investigations, and police organizations.
Studies in this office behavior mostly showed that officers wearing BWCs received fewer complaints than do those that are not wearing the cameras.
Use of force went down according to five of the rigorous impact studies. Four other studies, on the other hand, showed no statistically significant effects.
At least 32 studies focused on officer attitudes about cameras, and found that once officers started using cameras, they felt positive about them.
Sixteen studies looked at citizen and community attitudes about BWCs. Citizens often have high expectations: police will be more accountable and citizen confidence in the police will increase. This can depend, however, on citizens background. The few studies that looked at fear—certainly a relevant finding in the Philippine context—showed that citizens who know they are being recorded express strong agreement that BWCs make them feel safer and more confident in the police.
Would the defenseless 17-year-old Kian delos Santos gunned down by Caloocan cops in 2017 have escaped his fate the murderous police officers were wearing body cameras that recorded their every action? There is every reason to believe so.
The PNP OIC errs if he believes a body camera law assumes that all cops are abusive—and he should acknowledge that safeguards must be in place for the very citizens he is mandated to protect. And if the knowledge that their actions are being watched makes his men and women better police officers, he should embrace them instead of warning against hypothetical limits.