Last month, the city of St. Louis unanimously opted to accept a year of free body-worn cameras from Axon, formerly known as TASER and the nation’s largest camera vendor. While some members of the community, including the families of those who have been killed by the police, have pushed the city to adopt body-worn cameras, cameras alone can’t fix the accountability problems that have plagued police departments both locally and across the country.
Body cameras are only as effective as the policies that govern them — and the community should not accept the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s current policy, which is riddled with problems. Before these cameras are deployed, the police department must strengthen the civil rights and privacy protections in its body camera policy. If it doesn’t, the cameras will likely exacerbate the same problems they are trying to prevent, and they will further harm the very community they purport to protect and serve.
Over the past two years, we have been evaluating the body-worn camera policies of the nation’s largest police departments — including St. Louis’ — to assess whether these departments’ use of cameras adhere to civil rights principles. According to our research, the St. Louis Police Department’s policy, originally written for a 2015 pilot program but which still appears to be the current policy, fell short in almost every crucial area.