Throughout the United States, police officers are beginning to wear body cameras. Should principals in America’s public-school systems follow their example?
The stakes are high.
Americans who spend their childhoods in schools where all interactions are recorded for review are likely to regard constant surveillance outside the home as normal.
Alas, the country may be seeing the beginning of that trend.
A school district in southeastern Iowa “is thought to be among the first in the nation to outfit administrators at each of the district's eight school buildings with a body camera,” the Des Moines Register reports. “The district spent about $1,100 to purchase 13 cameras at about $85 each. They record with a date and time stamp, can be clipped onto ties or lanyards, and can be turned on and off as needed.”
For now, they won’t be used to record all interactions with adults––only school administrators will use them, and probably not all the time. But once in place, there could be a temptation to record everything just in case something happens. The Superintendent Pat Coen told the newspaper that he saw the value in wearable recording devices while deployed in Afghanistan with the Iowa Army National Guard, while another administrator in the school district first urged use of the technology:
Principal Mark Yeoman of Aldo Leopold Middle School said he was wrongly accused of kicking a student. A parent had complained about the Burlington school leader's behavior after he used de-escalation strategies to try to calm down a student. The incident was caught on a school camera, which Yeoman said he reviewed and later showed to the parent.
"They didn't have to take my word over the child's word. They were able to see it," Yeomen said.
After talking with the school's resource officer about how patrol car cameras—and now, body cameras—can help protect officers and cut down on the number of complaints, Yeoman approached Coen about making a purchase.
Note that stark contrast: For U.S. soldiers who are in Afghanistan, as well as American police officers, body cameras guard against misconduct or errors that regularly have deadly consequences. The stakes of improving outcomes could not be higher and the case that the benefits of body cameras outweigh the costs is easily made.