Law enforcement agencies, community advocates and policymakers hope that the widespread adoption of police bodycams will alleviate racial disparities and reduce misconduct and use of force. Racial justice has been central to this conversation, but gender justice has not. This essay takes an intersectional, gendered look at bodycam policies, challenging the assumption that officers will act more fairly when they know they are being recorded. Bodycam policies typically ensure that cameras are turned off during investigations of gendered crimes such as domestic violence, sexual assault, and sex work or sex trafficking. Thus women, sex workers, and gender-nonconforming people may be disproportionately excluded from any benefits of bodycam surveillance. But privacy and dignity interests, as well as investigatory realities, preclude the indiscriminate recording of every police-citizen interaction. More importantly, video recording will not promote accountability unless the recorded behavior is meaningfully prohibited. Unfortunately, many of the abusive practices that arise in gendered investigations are allowed by law, policy, or custom. Bodycams can promote accountability only where they are accompanied by an institutional commitment to fair and professional policing.
Bodycams and Gender Equity: Watching Men, Ignoring Justice
Phillip Atiba Goff is the president of the Center for Policing Equity and the inaugural Franklin A. Thomas Professor in Policing Equity at John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York. He is an expert in contemporary forms of racial bias and discrimination, as well as on the intersections of race and gender.
Kim Shayo Buchanan, Phillip Atiba Goff; Bodycams and Gender Equity: Watching Men, Ignoring Justice. Public Culture 1 September 2019; 31 (3): 625–644. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-7532739
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