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Aug 19 2013

Uniform Cameras on Cops Work

While New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is throwing a fit over a judge ordering that police officers in the precincts with the highest number of stop and frisks wear a camera on their uniforms, the Ft. Worth, Texas police are doing so voluntarily. Why? Because it works.

It’s also intended to settle disputes between police and residents who believe that they have been unfairly treated or arrested, said Sgt. Scott Sikes, who is in charge of implementing the program.

“We’ve seen dash-cams in police cars for years,” Sikes said. “This technology allows officers to take that recording device with them as they leave the car.

“In cities around the country that have already tested these, or different models of these, they’ve had a significant reduction in numbers of complaints against officers.”

The images will be uploaded to the Internet-based Evidence.com storage system, Sikes said, and officers cannot edit or alter the data. Residents may obtain copies of the footage through open-records requests.

This is exactly how it should be done. And good cops should be strongly in favor of it. Uniform cameras don’t just protect citizens from abusive and dishonest cops, they also protect good cops from dishonest people falsely claiming misconduct. I suspect that Bloomberg is upset about this because he knows that, with over 90% of all stops resulting in no wrongdoing at all, the uniform cameras will reveal just how unreasonable that “reasonable suspicion” they claim to base all stops on truly is.

And I’ll make a prediction: the number of people stopped and frisked in those precincts where the cops are wearing cameras will go down and the percentage of people caught actually doing something wrong will go up. This will happen because the officers will be more careful to have actual evidence to justify suspicion before stopping someone. The cameras will do what they are intended to do, as they’ve done elsewhere. And Bloomberg will still throw a fit about it.

18 comments

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  1. 1
    colnago80

    Oh, but Bloomberg claims in an OPED in today’;s Washington Post that stop and frisk is just fine and dandy and protects honest citizens from the miscreants. And besides,its not racial profiling.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/michael-bloomberg-stop-and-frisk-keeps-new-york-safe/2013/08/18/8d4cd8c4-06cf-11e3-9259-e2aafe5a5f84_story.html

  2. 2
    ludicrous

    Video/audio cams can be very small now. How about at the swearing in ceremony, the judge removes the american flag pin from the collar of the newly elected public servant and replaces it with a slightly larger flag with a cam that must be turned on whenever discussing the public’s business…which probably would mean except when asleep.

  3. 3
    doublereed

    And good cops should be strongly in favor of it. Uniform cameras don’t just protect citizens from abusive and dishonest cops, they also protect good cops from dishonest people falsely claiming misconduct.

    Remember that cops are people, and people don’t like surveillance. This is kind of like arguing that “well if you’re doing nothing wrong then what’s the problem?”

    I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but obviously cops are NOT going to want surveillance, regardless of whether they are good cops. Nobody likes surveillance. Don’t tell people to like it.

  4. 4
    Robin Pilger

    The cameras are paid for with drug seizure money. Hmmmm…

  5. 5
    rabbitscribe

    Oh, I love surveillance when I am interacting with law enforcement. By all means, if I am talking to the police, I want to be surveilled like a… like a… like a very comprehensively surveilled thing.

  6. 6
    kyoseki

    colnago80

    Bloomberg claims in an OPED in today’;s Washington Post that stop and frisk is just fine and dandy and protects honest citizens from the miscreants.

    He got ONE sentence into it before lying.

    New York is the safest big city in the nation

    It might have been in 2010 which is where the link takes you, but Los Angeles has a lower violent crime rate as of 2013 and they don’t stop and frisk here, at least not to anything like the same degree;
    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/los-angeles-crime-rate-falls-10th-straight-year-article-1.1235916

  7. 7
    Gretchen

    Doublereed:

    Remember that cops are people, and people don’t like surveillance. This is kind of like arguing that “well if you’re doing nothing wrong then what’s the problem?”

    I’m not saying it’s the same thing, but obviously cops are NOT going to want surveillance, regardless of whether they are good cops. Nobody likes surveillance. Don’t tell people to like it.

    If my memory serves correctly, you made this bullshit argument last time, and I exhaustively explained how it’s bullshit, and yet here you are making it again.

    There is no law of nature that says people don’t like surveillance. They can and do like it when it protects them. I would like the hell out of surveillance cameras posted around my apartment community because in addition to capturing me doing boring things like bringing in the groceries, they would capture people outside at 2am on a weeknight having a party/argument, idiots speeding around the parking lot where children like to play, and other people committing acts which are harmful but for which they are often not held accountable.

    Like making false accusations of abuse against police officer, for example.

    So. Don’t tell people not to tell people to like it. There are good reasons for people to like it, law enforcement people first and foremost.

  8. 8
    colnago80

    Re kyoseki @ #6

    Oh but don’t you know, Los Angeles isn’t a city, it’s 50 suburbs looking for a city! End snark. By the way, I am a native Angeleno, born in Queen of Angels Hospital.

  9. 9
    D. C. Sessions

    We can also expect the conviction rate to increase at the same time that the arrest rate drops, because not only does the camera help the DA ditch cases with weak evidence, it has a very strong effect on juries. Hearing a cop tell you what he saw is one thing, seeing with your own eyes the video has a lot more impact (from experience sitting on a jury with video evidence.)

  10. 10
    doublereed

    If my memory serves correctly, you made this bullshit argument last time, and I exhaustively explained how it’s bullshit, and yet here you are making it again.

    I remember that but I don’t remember any exhaustive thrashing or anything. Sorry. I’m pretty sure we came to an agreement in the end.

    It’s purely emotional. What I said has nothing to do with whether it’s a good thing or bad thing or it’s pragmatic value. So I’m caught offguard by your contempt.

    There is no law of nature that says people don’t like surveillance. They can and do like it when it protects them. I would like the hell out of surveillance cameras posted around my apartment community because in addition to capturing me doing boring things like bringing in the groceries, they would capture people outside at 2am on a weeknight having a party/argument, idiots speeding around the parking lot where children like to play, and other people committing acts which are harmful but for which they are often not held accountable.

    You know, there’s a huge difference between cameras protecting private property and attaching a camera to you to watch everything you do. That’s a pretty huge friggin’ stretch.

    But I didn’t consider the first point. Religious people take comfort in knowing God watches everything. So maybe people are fine with surveillance. Though, this is one of those things that makes God really friggin’ creepy. Generally interesting question: is it part of human nature to dislike surveillance?

  11. 11
    badgersdaughter

    Honest people dislike surveillance when going about their own lawful and private behavior. Non-law-enforcement people are frequently under surveillance on the job, because they are doing work for which they are paid by and accountable to an employer. They are under surveillance in shops and banks because cameras there have been shown to reduce the number of crimes committed and increase the number of crimes successfully prosecuted. Law enforcement officers are not about their own private business, nor are they an exception to the on-the-job surveillance rule, nor are they an exception to the crime-prevention rule.

  12. 12
    exdrone

    Gretchen @7,
    I find your response to doublereed a little over the top. I certainly don’t see how you infer that doublereed is telling people what to like and not like.
    I can personally envision situations where surveillance can be a good thing and where it can be so pervasive that it would be intrusive. The use of uniform cameras in stop-and-frisk situations makes good sense, but I don’t feel the need to watch a beat cop eating lunch or going to the bathroom, so it would be valid to ask how these cameras should be controlled to prevent them not being turned on when they should be on but allow them to be turned off for appropriate privacy.
    I also think it is worth considering what the effect on public privacy is in the aggregate. A single uniform camera used for a single stop-and-frisk incident is not a problem. The aggregated surveillance of a department’s worth of uniform cameras, dashboard cameras, stoplight cameras, speed cameras, building surveillance cameras, … imposes on people’s privacy, just as the amassing of people’s phone metadata crosses the line.
    While Ed correctly observes that increased surveillance is useful, doublereed correctly asks what the limits of that surveillance should be.

  13. 13
    jaybee

    A minor aside:

    A good friend is a ranger at a national park and they have been using these recording badges for a while. He said one down-side is that the device picks up the ranger’s voice very clearly, but isn’t as great at picking up the person being stopped.

    The few times these recordings have been introduced as evidence in court, the volume is turned up enough to hear the far side of the conversation, but then it sounds like the ranger is shouting. Not the biggest problem, but he said he has some fear that it will make the rangers appear to be deranged assholes.

  14. 14
    lofgren

    Everytime this topic comes up, Ed says that good cops should be in favor of lapel cameras, then somebody (sometimes me) says what Doublereed said, then somebody says what Gretchen said.

    Personally my concern is not that the cop will be recorded while taking a dump. One of the things that I think cops should be able to do, that I want them to be able to do, is exercise their own human judgement. I don’t mind if a cop hands some guy a paper bag for his open container if the guy is just chilling on a front stoop, or if he accepts the occasional free meal from a local business even though most departments technically disallow that. I don’t want otherwise good cops getting caught up in witch hunts because somebody is playing Monday morning quarterback. So to me the issue is making sure that the footage is available to people who have a good reason to view it but not accessible to anybody who asks, including prosecutors, other policemen, and citizens. Obviously if you are accused of a crime, you need to have access to any relevant footage, but I don’t think anybody should be able to just ask for all of the footage from any cop’s lapel. If that balance can be struck, then I am all for lapel cameras. But if we’re going to say that good cops should be in favor of lapel cameras we need to take some steps to make sure they are not going to get burned by them.

  15. 15
    unnullifier

    14. lofgren: The problem with the “have a good reason” criteria is that it’s very subjective and if you set the threshold too high it makes the whole effort worthless. A threshold for release that’s too high will make it simple for corrupt officers to withhold video footage. As police are granted the power to strip citizens of their rights I’m not very concerned with a few good cops getting caught breaking minor rules. Also I really doubt that any camera equipped cop keeps it running while they use the toilet.

    Their very fallible “human judgement” combined with their extraordinary police powers is exactly the reason they should be wearing cameras while performing their duty. (But not–of course–their “doody”.)

  16. 16
    lofgren

    Of course that’s “the problem.” If it weren’t the problem, then it wouldn’t be worth mentioning. Nevertheless, I believe there is a line between a “good reason” and “not a good reason,” and if we don’t provide some protections then we can expect that we will not only continue to see obstructionism from so-called “good cops” on this matter, we will also see a lot noncompliance if the lapel cameras become policy.

    Good cops have reasonable fears that the footage being abused, misinterpreted, or otherwise manipulated. If we want their help surveilling bad cops, we need to protect them from those concerns.

  17. 17
    gworroll

    I like that they have a third party handle the data storage for this.

    In my hometown of Milford, CT, a cop decided that 90MPH in a 45 zone at night when not on an emergency call was a fine and dandy idea. He ended up crashing into another car, killing the two teenagers inside.

    As this all worked through the system, a lawsuit was fired alleging the police department of tolerating such reckless speed. Naturally, the plaintiffs attorney asked for dash cam footage. “Oh, I’m so sorry, but a lieutenant ‘accidentally’ deleted all of it.”.

    Not sure what the status of that lawsuit is right now, but yeah… I would hesitate to trust the cops with this footage, glad to hear that Ft Worth is handing it to a neutral third party to ensure unedited video remains available.

  18. 18
    OldEd

    This is going to work if-and-only-if

    (1) The citizens can LEGALLY wear also cameras (with sound), with similar off-camera storage facilities, WITHOUT harassment by the police.

    (2) The case against anyone arrested during a stop-and-frisk operation is thrown out with an apology and and sum of money in remuneration – say $500 – TAKEN OUT OF THE COPS SALARY, IF the camera is (or cameras are), for any reason, NON-FUNCTIONAL. Otherwise too many cops will “have trouble with the camera”.

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