Police Steal Evidence of A Crime

“Baton Rouge police took Alton Sterling surveillance video without a warrant or permission”

Apparently “Minutes” after the shooting, cops took the store’s video recorder. It’s as if they were trying to collect evidence of a crime, or something. So they could destroy it.

It ought to be becoming clear to everyone in the US that the ubiquity of cameras is changing the relationship between the citizenry and the police. The police resistance to “cop cameras” and self-surveillance technology is a sham – they claim that it’s encumbering or awkward or whatever.

Over and over and over and over we have seen two things:

Meanwhile, the citizen’s right to record police with a camera has been upheld over and over by courts, yet cops continue to threaten citizens that shoot video of them. It’s as if they refuse to understand the law or something.

Camera ‘Em All

Society regulates some roles disproportionately, because abuse of those roles may be disproportionately damaging. If you carry a gun on behalf of the people you have a disproportionate ability to do damage and therefore ought to be subject to additional monitoring. If that sounds onerous or awkward, you probably chose the wrong career field.

Society recognizes that people who wield disproportionate power have a responsibility to be accountable. That’s why there are government record-keeping requirements: we acknowledge that a corrupt politician has the ability to do disproportionate damage to all of society and any privacy rights they may have are trumped (Am I still allowed to say use that expression?) by society’s need to protect itself.

Oddly, the people who exercise disproportionate power in society happen to be: politicians, cops, and the wealthy. All of whom tend to try to avoid scrutiny. I’m not going to ask a rhetorical “Why?” because the reason is obvious.

We need cop cams. We need politician cams. We need rich people cams.

For one thing, if the cops that stole the evidence of the other cop’s crime had cop cams, there’d be camera footage of them stealing the evidence from the store’s video camera. We all (most of us) already live under a high degree of scrutiny. Whenever I go to an airport, I am photographed constantly. When I drive through some tollboths my license plate is scanned and my truck is photographed. Most of us do not attempt to avoid this scrutiny, we tolerate it as part of the tradeoff for living in our society. But the cameras are watching the wrong people. Who did more damage to the US, the 9/11 terrorists or the Wall Street speculators who cratered the economy in 2008? For that matter, I’ve never killed anyone in my life, but cops do it all the time and the only audit trail is usually collected by some terrified civilian who is then stalked and threatened.

When cops grab evidence in a situation like this, it’s not because they planned to rush it to the FBI crime lab.

I’d say “we should require that federal whistle-blower protections be offered automatically to anyone who comes forward with video of cops shooting someone”   except that we’ve seen that federal whistleblower protections aren’t worth very much anyway. Whistleblowers are only protected if they benefit the powerful, if they embarrass the powerful they are hounded down and abused, or worse.


  1. says

    Chigau@#1: David Brin wrote about that. His premise was a world of the future where everyone is always camming everyone else, and if anyone does anything naughty, there will be lots of footage of it.

    I admit I’m fantasizing that someone needs to do what the Black Panthers did in Oakland – following cops and monitoring their behavior – except with cameras instead of guns. A crowdsourced cop-monitoring project (with cameras watching the cameras so that if a cop beat up a camera holder it’d all be streamed)

  2. says

    Brin’s book “Earth” has some of the camera-toting retirees. “The Transparent Society” is a nonfiction treatment of the topic, same author.

  3. John Morales says

    Beware what you wish for… you might just get it.

    What you like is a side-effect of the early stages of a panopticon society.

    (And we all have something to hide)

  4. Menyambal says

    Just in case you are thinking cops don’t steal: Police can confiscate anything related to illegal drug use, including suspiciously large amounts of cash, on their own estimation that it is somehow connected to drugs. They need no evidence, no proof, and no justification, nor do they need to account for the money after confiscation. There is no legal recourse. If they see something they want, and they can say it is related to drugs, it is legally theirs. And, oh my, they do find a lot of drug-related stuff.

    The other way police steal is through issuing traffic tickets. Ticket revenue is discussed, planned for, and often promised to increase. One problem is that tickets are often issued to poor people and minorities who cannot fight the tickets and who cannot pay the fines. Penalties are assessed, and charges filed, with costs escalating. The rich, meanwhile, don’t get stopped, don’t get ticketed, have lawyers who will fight the tickets, and can easily pay the fines.

    Both those situations wouldn’t be legal in a just society. That they even exist is a sign of corruption. That they are abused is a crime.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    When cops grab evidence in a situation like this, it’s not because they planned to rush it to the FBI crime lab.

    Oh, I dunno ’bout that. Considering that lab’s reputation for losing, damaging, mishandling, and mislabeling evidence and reports, it seems to function fairly well as a cylindrical file system.

  6. says

    John Morales@#4:
    What you like is a side-effect of the early stages of a panopticon society

    It’s not going to happen, of course.
    Historically, privacy seems to be a “right” of the wealthy and powerful. They have more to hide than we do.

  7. John Morales says

    Marcus, I think you’ve proposed possibly the best argument for your case, but I’m not that sanguine about the 1%ers self-interest sufficiently trickling down to the rest of us.