Technological changes needed after Ferguson


Matthew Tessler, Staff Writer

In the wake of the controversy in Ferguson, Missouri, surrounding the death of Michael Brown at the hands of Darren Wilson, much work needs to be done to reform police conduct. While a major look at the state of race relations in America is needed, there are practical, incremental solutions that can help stop situations like this one from happening — or explain the situations when they do.

Police officers in the United States should be required to wear body cameras. Recording every exchange between officers and civilians would create a system under which both parties must answer to what is caught on camera. Instead of confusion following an altercation — like the initial uncertainty after Wilson shot Brown — video footage of the incident would provide clarity. Many police officers already have squad cars equipped with cameras and microphones, but the entirity of a police interaction cannot be captured by a fixed camera. While body cameras do not offer unequivocal clarity in every situation, they create a system of acknowledged accountability. Body cameras would be a relatively easy addition to any fleet. The Department of Justice has extensive instructions on its website for police forces hoping to adopt the technology.

The second solution is less practical, but equally worthwhile. Though smart gun technology is less developed than body camera technology, it could drastically improve safety and accountability among gun-wielding police officers. Smart guns require some sort of authentication to fire, eliminating the possibility of the weapon being shot by someone other than its owner. The authentication is sent through a wristband or fingerprint scanner that transmits a signal to the gun acknowledging whether or not the holder is the intended user. As an added benefit, the required authentication makes it easier to track usage. The technology, which is nearly ready for application, is being held back by pro-gun activists. This is unfortunate given the way this technology could change officer interactions with suspects. Brown’s autopsy report suggests that he may have reached for Officer Wilson’s gun. If Wilson had a gun that worked only when in his hand, his confrontation with Brown may not have been fatal.

While these technologies only demonstrate their worth in extreme circumstances, they provide police forces an enormous opportunity to show that they care about the people they are paid to protect. Adoption of these technologies, while expensive, is a smart anticipatory move that sends a loud message: America’s police has learned its lesson from Ferguson. The federal government should invest money toward the research, development and implementation of these technologies. Body cameras and smart guns will not end racial discrimination of minorities by police officers in the United States, but the technologies may slow the onslaught of unnecessary fatalities.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Dec. 2 print edition. Email Matthew Tessler at [email protected].