The Dark Side Of Cop Cams

New York City Public Advocate Displays Police Wearable Cameras

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)

Making Cops Wear Cameras

by Dish Staff

New York City Public Advocate Displays Police Wearable Cameras

It’s happening:

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that two companies, Safety Visions and Digital Ally, donated about 50 cameras to the Ferguson Police Department a week ago. Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson said they are “still playing with them,” but officers started using the cameras at a protest march on Saturday. Jackson said the officers captured video of protesters taunting them.

More than 153,000 people have signed a“We the People” petition to create a “Mike Brown Law” that would require all police to wear cameras, and several police departments across the country have moved toward implementing them in the wake of Brown’s shooting. Police in Columbia, South Carolina just started testing the cameras, and last week the police chief in Houston, Texas requested $8 million to equip 3,500 officers over the next three years.

But Justin T. Ready and Jacob T.N. Young, who have done research on cop cameras and support their use, caution that “many assumptions people make about body-worn cameras simply aren’t true.” A big one:

The first myth is that video evidence is completely objective and free of interpretation. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth at least a million. Or is it? For example, we’ve been working on a study surveying residents in a large West Coast city about their experiences with police officers during traffic stops. One finding was surprising: When asked whether they observed the officer touch his gun when approaching the car, 50.9 percent of black motorists said yes. In contrast, only 11.5 percent of white motorists observed the officer touch his gun. What’s surprising is not the disparity but that police training and policy in this city required all officers to approach vehicles during traffic stops with their hand on their service weapon. Essentially, white motorists may not have been paying as much attention to where the officer was placing his or her hands when approaching the vehicle. What was a subtlety of behavior for whites was not a minor detail for blacks. The police in this city did not wear on-officer video cameras. It is possible that police were more likely to disregard their training with white motorists, but a 2007 study by the Rand Corp.found that when researchers matched stops involving black drivers with similarly situated white drivers (those stopped at the same time, place, etc.), officers were no more likely to disregard their training for white motorists. What do you think—was our finding due to a difference in police behavior or selective awareness of the officer touching his firearm?

The point is that two people observing the same police activity may see different things because each person will focus her attention on details that are most important to her own self-interest. A video clip from body cams is part of a larger story, some of which is not caught on camera.

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)

Policing The Police With Cameras, Ctd

A reader writes:

Your recent post about equipping police forces with video cameras struck a chord with me, as I recently sat on a jury where the lack of video played a central role. The case was not particularly exceptional, and the lesson obviously anecdotal, but it was a major eye-opener for me.

A young Hispanic male from a nearby town known for its drug trade was targeted and arrested by a drug task force, although no drug charges were presented. He was charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon (ramming the undercover cruiser behind him with his car), operating a motor vehicle to endanger (driving on the sidewalk to evade the ad hoc police blockade), leaving the scene of an accident, negligent operation (running stop signs) and failure to stop for police.

The very first question the defense lawyer asked was, “Where’s the video?” Of course there was none, and in the absence of actual evidence, video or otherwise, the six middle/upper-middle class white people that composed our jury took it on faith that four police officers would casually perjure themselves and voted not guilty on the assault and endangerment charges. At one point, one of the jury members asked “Why are there no witnesses?” I’m no friend of the police, but I felt I had to remind the group that technically the State presented four witnesses – the four police officers.

In the end, we voted to convict on the negligent operation and failure to stop charges, based on the defendant’s own account of the episode during his testimony. I couldn’t help but think that the police have a real, existential problem when the juror I expected to be most sympathetic to the police – the contractor who told the court he knew a few cops from the neighborhood – turned out to be the one most adamant that the officers’ testimony should be completely disregarded.

The day may be fast approaching when any officer who wants to be believed in court will welcome video evidence to back them up, and that will surely be a win for anyone interested in justice.

Policing The Police With Cameras, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Ferguson is exploring outfitting its officers with dash and body cameras. Sara Libby points out a problem San Diego has had with its body cams:

Here in San Diego, our scandal-plagued police department has begun outfitting some officers with body cameras, and the City Council has approved a plan to roll out hundreds more. Officers wearing the cameras were present during at least two shootings earlier this year. Yet we’re still not any closer to knowing what happened in those chaotic moments—whether the perpetrators can be easily identified, what kind of interactions the officers had with those present, nothing.

That’s because the department claims the footage, which is captured by devices financed by city taxpayers and worn by officers on the public payroll, aren’t public records. Our newsroom’s request for footage from the shootings under the California Public Records Act was denied. Once footage becomes part of an investigation, the department says it doesn’t have to release them. SDPD also said during the pilot phase of the camera program that it doesn’t even have to release footage from the cameras after an investigation wraps.

Kriston Capps sees limits to what police cameras can accomplish in Ferguson:

A survey of the available research conducted by the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center shows that most of the claims about police body cameras have not been fully tested, while many of the consequences for law-enforcement agencies, labor unions, and communities have not even been explored.

But city leaders have other, better, more immediate options if they truly want to “demonstrate the transparency of our city departments.” Namely, leaders in Ferguson should require officers to put their badges back on their vests and ask the Federal Aviation Administration to put the news choppers back in the air.

T.C. Sottek expresses more skepticism:

Body cameras would be a welcome improvement for many in Ferguson, but even dash cameras, used by other police departments across the United States, haven’t been installed there. The city’s police chief revealed last week that the department purchased two dash cameras and body cameras, but never installed them due to cost.

Scott Shackford, for his part, thinks cameras may help. He points out that Rialto, California “has made national news for making officers wear vest cameras, reducing the use of force by police and complaints against the police.” Earlier Dish on the cameras-for-cops debate here.

Policing The Police With Cameras, Ctd

by Dish Staff

Last week, in the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting, making police wear body cameras was suggested as a way to rein in the police. Mark Steyn focuses instead on the lack of dash cam footage:

“Law” “enforcement” in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns …but not a dashcam. That’s ridiculous. I remember a few years ago when my one-man police department in New Hampshire purchased a camera for its cruiser. It’s about as cheap and basic a police expense as there is. … In 2014, when a police cruiser doesn’t have a camera, it’s a conscious choice. And it should be regarded as such. And, if we have to have federal subsidy programs for municipal police departments, we should scrap the one that gives them the second-hand military hardware from Tikrit and Kandahar and replace it with one that ensures every patrol car has a camera.

No argument there. But Jonathan Coppage has concerns about cops wearing cameras:

Yet even setting aside the natural privacy concerns raised by strapping recording devices to every patrol officer circumambulating their city’s streets, it is worth raising a smaller, subtler, but nevertheless potentially significant concern: the increasingly intermediated cop. One only has to glance in the window of a local patrol car to see the sprawling array of screens, keyboards, and communication devices designed to link the officer to all the information they could need. The problem being, of course, that the most important information the common cop needs still can’t be pulled up within his car: the knowledge gained from building relationships with those in the community he patrols.

That relationship-building is a core component of a police officer’s mission, and may be almost entirely divorced from the work he can get done on his car’s mounted notebook computer. It also requires a certain amount of discretion, getting to know a neighborhood’s warts as well as its virtues. The conversations that give an officer an accurate picture of the seedy but not destructive side of his citizens’ lives could very well be more difficult or awkward should the policeman’s sunglasses be rolling film.

However, Conor Friedersdorf bets that cops will want such cameras:

As the police continue to lose the trust of the public, due largely to documented instances of bad behavior by fellow officers, as well as law enforcement’s longstanding inability to police themselves, I suspect that more and more good cops will be clamoring for cameras on their dashboards and lapels. Until then, citizens ought to record police during every incident as it unfolds.

Policing The Police With Cameras

by Dish Staff

Nick Gillespie wants to make cops wear recording devices:

While there is no simple fix to race relations in any part of American life, there is an obvious way to reduce violent law enforcement confrontations while also building trust in cops: Police should be required to use wearable cameras and record their interactions with citizens. These cameras—various models are already on the market—are small and unobtrusive and include safeguards against subsequent manipulation of any recordings.

“Everyone behaves better when they’re on video,” Steve Ward, the president of Vievu, a company that makes wearable gear, told ReasonTV earlier this year. Given that many departments already employ dashboard cameras in police cruisers, this would be a shift in degree, not kind.

Derek Thompson is on the same page:

When researchers studied the effect of cameras on police behavior, the conclusions were striking.

Within a year, the number of complaints filed against police officers in Rialto fell by 88 percent and “use of force” fell by 59 percent. “When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief William A. Farrar, the Rialto police chief, told the New York Times. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

Matt Stroud talked with attorney Scott Greenwood about putting cameras on cops:

“On-body recording systems [OBRS] would have been incredibly useful in Ferguson,” he says. “This is yet another controversial incident involving one officer and one subject, a minority youth who was unarmed,” a reference to Michael Brown, who was killed by police on August 9th. “OBRS would have definitively captured whatever interaction these two had that preceded the use of deadly force.” Armed with footage from an on-body camera system, it’s possible that police would’ve had no option but to take swift action against the officers involved — or if Brown’s behavior wasn’t as eyewitnesses describe, perhaps protests wouldn’t have swelled in the first place. Instead, the citizens of Ferguson are left with more questions than answers.

Moving forward, Greenwood doesn’t see how on-body cameras can be avoided. “I see no way moving forward in which Ferguson police do not use OBRS,” he says. “The proper use of OBRS is going to be a very important part of how these agencies restore legitimacy and public confidence.”