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President Obama wants to spend $75 million to buy police bodycams

The South Lawn and the White House. (REUTERS/Larry Downing )
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The White House wants to spend $75 million to help purchase 50,000 body cameras for police officers around the country. The proposed initiative, called the Body Worn Camera Partnership Program, would provide a 50 percent match to local governments who purchase body cameras over a three year period.

So-called "bodycams" record as police officers perform their duties and became the subject of a major policy push after the killing of un-armed teenager Michael Brown by Ferguson Police officer Darren Wilson. A state grand jury declined to charge Wilson last week.

In the aftermath of the announcement, Brown's mother called for laws that would require police officers to wear body cameras. Members of Congress, including Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), voiced their support for such legislation after the shooting. In August, McCaskill suggested requiring police departments to have body cams before receiving federal funding.

Obama's proposal would have to be approved by Congress.

As digital cameras have become ubiquitous on smart phones and other devices, citizens have increasingly used them to capture questionable police behavior. Police bodycams, advocates argue, could provide a similar level of accountability -- a layer of extra oversight that could put citizens and officers on their best behavior.

Police officers in Rialto, Calif., started wearing such cameras in February 2012. Over the next year, the volume of complaints filed against officers fell by nearly 90 percent compared to the previous year, according to the New York Times. And use of force by officers also fell significantly.

There are significant policy questions raised by the deployment of bodycams -- like who would control when they are recording and how long recordings will be retained. Privacy concerns are likely to become more significant as facial recognition and other forms of visual biometric technologies continue to develop.

But even some groups generally skeptical of increased surveillance have voiced their support. Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union said it supported the use of bodycams by police.

"Although we generally take a dim view of the proliferation of surveillance cameras in American life, police on-body cameras are different because of their potential to serve as a check against the abuse of power by police officers," the group argued in a position paper.