Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Less We're Able To Record Them, The More They Record Us

As More Police Wear Cameras, Policy Questions Arise

"The next time you talk to a police officer, you might find yourself staring into a lens. Companies such as Taser and Vievu are making small, durable cameras designed to be worn on police officer's uniforms. The idea is to capture video from the officer's point of view, for use as evidence against suspects, as well as to help monitor officers' behavior toward the public.

The concept is catching on. The cameras have been adopted by big city police departments, such as Cincinnati and Oakland, Calif., as well as dozens of smaller cities, such as Bainbridge Island, Wash., where the Vievu camera was initially tested by Officer Ben Sias.

"The only thing that really was different about doing business is that I'd tell the person that we're being recorded," Sias says. He sees the camera as a kind of insurance policy.

"In this job, we're frequently accused of things we haven't done, or things were kind of embellished, as far as contact," he says. "And the cameras show a pretty unbiased opinion of what actually did happen."

That makes the cameras particularly appealing in cities where the police have been accused of misconduct.

In Seattle, for example, the police department is being investigated by the Justice Department after a series of amateur videos showed police officers punching or kicking suspects. The problem with some of those videos, says Seattle City Councilman Bruce Harrell, is that they often capture only part of an incident.

"What we have now are videos after the fact — the 'second punch' kind of situation," Harrell says.

That's why Harrell wants Seattle police to start wearing cameras, too. He has asked the mayor to include money in next year's budget for a pilot project, equipping a handful of Seattle police with the cameras. He says he hopes the result will be a more complete view of police encounters with the public, as well as better behavior across the board.

"People behave differently when they are on camera," Harrell says, "so these cameras I believe can restore trust."

Harrell's enthusiasm is not shared by Sgt. Rich O'Neill, president of the Seattle Police Officers' Guild. O'Neill doesn't like the fact that many of the departments that have adopted wearable cameras have given their officers little discretion: They're required to record every contact with the public, and can't stop recording until it's over — even if a citizen asks them to.

O'Neill says people should think hard about what it will mean to have police officers show up at the front door with a camera rolling.

"Maybe I'm there for something as small as a noise complaint," O'Neill says. "Maybe I'm at your home for something much more serious, maybe it's a terribly traumatic event, domestic violence victim, child abuse victim, and I'm going to be walking into that home, videotaping."

Before police departments adopt the wearable cameras, they usually have to negotiate the ground rules with the local police union. One especially contentious issue is access: The unions generally want guarantees that superiors won't be able to use the videos to monitor officers' daily routine, or troll through the videos in search of minor infractions.

At the same time, police officers want to make sure they have access to their own tapes. In Oakland recently, a police officer who shot a suspect wanted to view his own video before making a formal statement; his request was denied, even though Oakland rules allow police to see the tapes. Department officials have now called that decision a "mistake," and the Oakland Police Officers Association has secured assurances that officers in similar situations will be able to see their own tapes."

The concept sucks all around and the excuse that it'll clarify confrontations is weak at best. For one thing it records an alleged perpetrator's actions without recording the cop. For another that business about police brutality tapes only showing a piece of the confrontation and not the "real" whole picture is a red herring - nothing excuses police brutality. For yet another, prima facie evidence for intrusive cop behavior will be defenestrated as these tapes will be pored over to find the slightest excuse for fascist overreaction - wait, is that a little pot bag in the background? See, busting heads was necessary. Also cops will get hoisted on their own petard at their superiors' whims as mentioned above.
So basically the push to know everything about us while they and their actions go unrecorded marches on.

Cop walks 100 feet to a guy with a recording device to tell him to ~get that camera out of my face~


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