Jacob Siegel worries about what happens to the footage:
Think of it like this: The police will have moved their evidence into a private warehouse staffed by private security guards and administrators. These private guards can see the boxes the evidence is stored in, how many and when they come in, but they’re not supposed to look inside. And instead of only keeping evidence related to criminal matters, this private warehouse is storing a bottomless pit of routine interactions between cops and citizens. Going 50 in a 35? Got stopped because you fit the description, but quickly released once the cops realized you weren’t the person they were looking for? There’s going to be a video of you in a private corporation’s digital records.
This isn’t abstract.
In Michael Brown’s case, outrage that the teenager’s fatal shooting wasn’t recorded was paired with a video released by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, showing the teen appear to push a clerk and leave a store with a box of unpaid-for cigars. It shortly emerged that the officer who shot him had no knowledge of that earlier crime, and many accused the police chief of releasing the video to smear a dead man. The same massive evidence trove body cameras create can, if used selectively, humiliate and indict average citizens.
Also, Matt Taylor points out, cameras don’t always prevent police abuse:
Presumably, your average beat cop is less likely to go on a power trip and beat a vulnerable person senseless if he thinks he might have to explain the video to a grand jury afterward. But slapping cameras on police officers’ lapels is no panacea, and presents all sorts of tricky questions about privacy in this era of unchecked state surveillance. Besides, we know that, by way of example, cops in Albequerque, New Mexico, went ahead and killed a mentally ill homeless man on tape last year despite the officers’ cameras. Remember, Rodney King was beaten on tape (and so was Garner, for that matter)—for all the good it did him.
Previous Dish on cop cameras here.
(Photo: New York City Public Advocate Letitia James displays a video camera that police officers could wear on patrol during a press conference on August 21, 2014 in New York City. By Andrew Burton/Getty Images)