Where is Reagan When You Need Him?


In a bit of contract negotiation, the NYPD, which is required to deploy body cameras on cops, has announced that it’s going to take another six months just to negotiate the contract with the police union.

The fact that cops don’t want to wear cameras is the best possible argument for why they should be wearing cameras! (I am aware that that’s the “homeland security double bind argument”*) I think it’s fair to make that argument because that’s the same argument the police used to justify “stop and frisk” programs. Hey, if you’re not carrying drugs, you don’t have a reason to mind being subjected to unconstitutional racially profiled search, right? Hey, if you’re wearing blue you don’t have a reason to mind wearing a cop camera because it’s actually part of the “serve” part of “protect and serve.”

Despite being ordered to start testing body cameras in 2013, the NYPD is facing delays that will likely push the program off to next year, said Peter Zimroth, the program’s court-appointed monitor.[1]

Oh, court-appointed monitor – you mean, that order to start testing? You’re just going to blow it off, cops?

Manhattan federal Judge Shira Scheindlin ordered the NYPD to test body cameras for one year in response to class-action lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the department’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, which the plaintiffs said unfairly discriminated against minorities.

Apparently, yes. And, did you know that cops are going to need training in how to use the cameras and that’s going to also take time?

Here, I have drafted some training materials NYPD can use:

  1. Before leaving the station, put the camera on using the provided clip to the velcro patch on your uniform
  2. Press the button thingie
  3. Forget about it
  4. When you get back to the station, take the camera off
  5. Press the button thingie
  6. At all other times, do not press the button thingie

Why do I think of Ronald Reagan at this moment? Because I wish his ghost could come roaring back into the contract negotiations and fire some cops and cop management. Apparently NYPD’s offering a 1% salary bump to cops that are willing to do their jobs as mandated by a federal judge. The thing about this that’s bizzare is that NYC cops have been negotiating contracts since 2012. And the union has been digging its heels in over things like stop-and-frisk, being expected to comply with federal law, etc. I’m sure that no conservatives’d mind if the Republican Saint Reagan’s approach was used to move the contract negotiations along. If it’s taken since 2012 to hammer out the contract, that’s 4 years that could have been spent hiring a new police force in parallel.

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(* If you don’t have anything to hide, why do you care if we monitor you?)

[1] New York Post: NYPD Body Camera Program Delayed At Least Six Months

New York Post: City to Pay Cops More to Wear Body Cameras

Comments

  1. Jessie Harban says

    Cops should not be allowed to have unions.

    Normally, unions are absolutely necessary because of the massive power imbalance between workers and management. Private sector employees need a union because without one, large corporations hold all the power and workers have none at all; a union doesn’t balance the scale but it does partially mitigate the imbalance. Most public sector workers also need a union because the power of individual workers against the power of the state is an even bigger imbalance most of the time.

    But cops? Cops are the power of the state. Letting cops have a union doesn’t take power away from the state and give it to the workers; it takes power away from the part of the state that’s at least nominally answerable to the people and gives it to a part that isn’t.

    For what it’s worth, NYC cops are subject to Taylor Law which bans them from striking. It does allow for some binding mediation process but no competent mediator would be willing to give them a bonus just for obeying the law. If the city had even the most minimally competent government, they’d just order the cops to start wearing cameras (and abandon stop and frisk) effective immediately and if the union doesn’t like it, tough.

  2. says

    To be fair, the cops know perfectly well that random snippets of murky video can be used to create any goddamned narrative you please. Just look on youtube at all the videos incriminating cops. They have a right to demand that footage is treated properly, that when things are dicey that the footage will be examined in context, and completely. If it turns into a tool that management can use to discipline or fire anyone they have personal beef with, that would be bad, right?

    But of course I cannot IMAGINE that the powers that manage the NYPD would EVER stoop to SUCH DEPTHS.

    It’s scumbags all around, maneuvering for position against the other scumbags.

  3. says

    Andrew Molitor@#2:
    It’s scumbags all around, maneuvering for position against the other scumbags.

    And occasionally stopping and frisking pedestrians to see if they have any drugs on them.

  4. jrkrideau says

    Why should police not have unions to protect themselves from arbitrary management misbehaviour? Much better to turn them into lackeys of the establishment?

    I would refer the interested reader to the RCMP in Canada. The force might even not be facing several (hundred?) cases of sexual and racial harassment if it had a union.

    The problem is letting a police union think it is not a union but its own little state. This is not, primarily the union’s fault, it is the failure of pusillanimous politicians to do their proper job.

    Oh, a union will grab whatever power and prerogatives it can and to some extent that is its job in representing its members. If management is stupid enough to concede, don’t blame the union, blame the idiots in management.

  5. says

    There’s an interesting point here, somewhat off to the side.

    The individual cops are not the state, nor are they the power of the state. Same with soldiers. In fact, you cannot point to anything specific and say “therein lies the power of the state”, really. You can’t even point at one thing. Pointing at an aircraft carrier gets *close* but even then it’s not the power of the state, unless it is served by crew, armed by munition makers, and under orders to project that power. It’s just a big ship with a flat top otherwise.

    The state and its power are nebulous, emergent, things. The individual cops certainly DO deserve some protection, as do soldiers, because ultimately both are merely people under the command of a particularly turgid and unhealthy kind of bureaucracy, charged with great responsibility which is occasionally beyond their ability to carry.

  6. says

    jrkrideau@#4:
    The problem is letting a police union think it is not a union but its own little state. This is not, primarily the union’s fault, it is the failure of pusillanimous politicians to do their proper job.

    Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:

    First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.

    Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.

    The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.

    (Source)

    John Gall reformulated that as part of general systems theory, namely that systems eventually switch missions from doing whatever they were supposed to do, to preserving the system.

  7. says

    Andrew Molitor@#5:
    The state and its power are nebulous, emergent, things. The individual cops certainly DO deserve some protection, as do soldiers, because ultimately both are merely people under the command of a particularly turgid and unhealthy kind of bureaucracy, charged with great responsibility which is occasionally beyond their ability to carry

    I’m not sure if they need protection, as much as protected space in which to make their own decisions, for better or worse.
    A lot of soldiers and cops “just follow orders” but some think about it, and follow them – and others don’t. The principle of maximizing people’s ability to make their own decisions is what I think is crucial here.

  8. says

    Yes, it’s possible that traditional union structures are the wrong thing for cops. It’s not obvious that it’s NOT, either.

    The issue at question now is a great example of these special needs, I think. On the one hand it is definitely a good thing that We, The People, should be permitted to watch, indeed scrutinize minutely, the actions of our police. On the other hand, as any security practitioner can tell you, surveillance leads *inevitably* to abuse, sometimes appalling abuse. It follows that we need to be able to minutely scrutinize out police officers as a an embodiment of the state’s power and as potential abusers of that power, *while simultaneously* protecting the individual human beings who carry that embodiment from abuse.

    The answer is not even remotely clear to me. I suspect that the best we can hope for is a heuristic, adjusted regularly, and with built in flexibility to allow rational results to appear from time to time, and we have to be willing to accept some irreducible kernel of injustice. As with all such irreducible kernels, we must always seek to reduce it, we must always rage against it, lest it become OK and then begin to grow.

  9. jrkrideau says

    6 Marcus Ranum
    Re Pournille’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy
    SF writers are good at crafting statements.

    C. Northcote Parkinson might have been a better authority.

    Let’s look at Robert A. Heinlein’s dictum: An armed society is a polite society.

    Sorry,
    I live in Canada.
    Excuse me, pardon.

  10. says

    jrkrideau@#9:
    SF writers are good at crafting statements

    I’m not a big fan of Pournelle; aside from his collaborations with Niven, he started to sound self-similar pretty quickly.

    But there’s something in his “law” which I’ve also noticed. I attribute it to different focus and different agendas. If you have a group of people all trying to do whatever the group’s mission is, and there are one or two members of the group that are more interested in promoting themselves, the self-promoters will be more effective because the actual do-ers are busy do-ing and the self-promoters are busy self-promoting. That’s basically the same thing that Pournelle is staying, except he’s being a bit more collegial than I am. I observe this in lots of places and it’s one of the reasons I am particularly suspicious of politicians. While everyone else is doing whatever they’re doing, the professional politicians are doing their job which is often manipulating everyone else. It’s really a matter of disproportionate focus.

  11. says

    Steve Morrison@#11:
    Funny you mention that; I was thinking the same thing and that was what motivated my comment @#11 about “disproportionate focus”*

    The Iron Law of Oligarchy is really interesting and I was thinking it might make a good topic for a Sunday Sermon. I’ll note that Piketty’s economic views appear to be influenced by Michels.

    (* I was also thinking of Gall’s general systems theory)

  12. says

    The fact that cops don’t want to wear cameras is the best possible argument for why they should be wearing cameras!

    I’d suggest that, while true, it actually comes down to equalising the distribution of power, particularly as regards the homeland security double bind argument. As Bruce Schneier put it:

    Surveillance of power is one of the most important ways to ensure that power does not abuse its status. But, of course, power does not like to be watched.

    The fundamental difference between police cameras, and stop and frisk, is that cameras should in theory reduce the power divide; whereas stop and frisk is definitely intended to increase it.

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