Police body cameras are a critical new development in the criminal justice field. Body cameras give good perspective on what actually happens during interactions between the public and the police.
Of course, these tools are only effective if they are used. If an officer leaves his camera off for the first minute of encountering a suspect, critical information is excluded from consideration. For example: an officers exact words, tone of voice, and manner of approach are all relevant when determining whether a contact between an officer and the public is a consensual encounter or whether a person has been detained.
Police officers are aware of this. So when an officer knows he or she is about to begin an encounter with a member of the public, but chooses not to turn his or her camera on, that could signal that the officer intends to obfuscate the circumstances of the encounter.
Criminal defense practitioners must be aggressive in requesting that judges hold an officer’s failure to turn on their body camera as a factor against them. Only by drawing negative inferences for such conduct can police be incentivized to be entirely transparent.