Forget Body Cameras

I’ve been a proponent of cop-cams for years. I would now like to officially reverse my position.

As if it wasn’t bad enough that cop-cams mysteriously get turned off at exactly the wrong time, cops are dead set on demonstrating that it does not matter. If they are on the camera, doing something naughty, the police department will run interference for them anyway. Trying to get police to wear cop-cams is a strategy that is doomed to fail, so we may as well just stop.

NYPD, for example, is stonewalling 212 requests for camera footage pursuant to abuse claims, and has only even responded to 33 of them. [propublica] Only Roger Stone and Donald Trump are allowed to stonewall like that, but NYPD has – apparently – never heard the dictum, “you have nothing to hide if you haven’t done anything wrong.”

Like many cities, New York City began equipping its police officers with body-worn cameras a few years ago. The footage is often invaluable evidence for the civilian agency charged with investigating complaints about NYPD abuses.

But first, the agency’s investigators need to get the footage. And increasingly, the NYPD is not turning it over.

In May, New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board requested body-worn camera footage for 212 cases involving possible misconduct but received only 33 responses, according to a recent internal memo.

The NYPD’s responsiveness has “steadily gotten worse,” stated the memo, which was obtained by ProPublica. The memo warned that “the situation is untenable.”

There is, however, a lot that can be done that might make a difference. Other than plowing the police departments under, and starting from scratch. That is a two-pronged attack, one prong of which is to criminalize attempts to prevent someone from taking pictures in a public location, including/especially if it captures police activity. And, I think we’re already collectively working on the other prong, which is making sure that any time a cop is in sight, they are on camera. They can’t be trusted, apparently, to work with difficult cameras – but that’s something civilians appear to have no trouble with, at all. Legal challenges to qualified immunity probably will not work as long as republicans or central-party democrats are in office, but there is already plenty of case law (IANAL) I believe, that asserts citizens’ rights to film. If cops have been found to be acting improperly if they take or destroy citizens’ cameras in the past, then that seems to break the doctrine of qualified immunity.

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways. 1… 2… 3…

Most of you probably already know about the police in New York, who are violating their own departmental policy by putting electrical tape over their badge numbers [intercept]. Those cops should be fired, immediately. Sure, they should be fired for putting tape over their badge number, but they mostly should be fired for being incredibly stupid. This is not one of those “bad apples” situations, this is:

  • You’re so dumb you hid your badge number on your badge when your badge number is also on your helmet.
  • You’re so dumb you hid your badge number on your badge and your name tag is right under it, officer Cepin Arias.
  • You’re so dumb that you took your cop cam off, as did the officer to your right, but the empty mounting is sitting there for all the world to see. Let me guess, you’ll claim that something was wrong with the camera – like, that it wasn’t anywhere to be found. Meanwhile the officer to your left is carrying his camera; his name is “Officer Material Witness.”

I am enraged that apparently they think I’m as stupid as they are.

What they are actually doing is evidence-tampering. Attempting to obscure their badge number is a tacit admission that they want to avoid being identified (other than that they’re really really stupid) (did I mention that an average cinder-block is smarter than these cops?) (not all cops. I am sure there are some smart ones – in New Zealand)

Cop cams are dead. Let’s not talk about them anymore. Let’s talk, instead about how to make civilian car-trackers that can be surreptitiously attached under a cruiser’s bumper, that provide evidence of which cop was where, when, so they can’t lie about that. And everyone should have a cop-cam in their car. I just ordered a nice one with a 1gig card for $32, as a backup for my iPhone. I’ll wire it into the utility power in the back of my SUV so it’s always running when the utility circuit is on.

The FBI has already done extensive work to establish that citizens have no expectation of privacy if they are outside of their home. Did you know that? If you’re walking around, your cellular communications are not protected; they can be collected by a stingray, without a warrant. If the FBI wants to put a GPS tracker on your car, they will – whether they need a warrant, or not. While they’re at it, they’ll put malware on your computer that strobes your location whenever your computer requests a new DHCP address; there are multiple ways this is done (what, do you think Microsoft throws away the information when it gets a trace/ping to test internet connectivity? That’s a full route track. Obviously, the FBI and the police would have great big horking shitfits if someone started tracking and surveiling them, but equally obviously they cannot be trusted to act in good faith as citizens are required to.

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I also wish to declare that I am officially hardening my attitude on the “bad apples in the applesauce” metaphor. Look at the picture of the police, above: they are all violating department policy to some degree or another. That is not a few bad cops in a sea of good cops – it’s bad cops all the way down. I’m willing to believe there are good cops, but from now on, the burden of proof is on them. I want to know how many times they’ve reported misbehaving cops to IA, and if the answer is “never” they’re not good cops.

Since the police are obscuring their badges, they should not have arrest powers. How can they claim that they were somewhere and witnessed something, after they deliberately tried to make it hard to tell where they were?


  1. says

    How about an app you can download, which allows you to film, while uploading to a secure server, tagging the file with time/date and gps location. That would create a searchable public database which could be tapped for evidence by anyone who needed it.

    It would rack up costs, and I have no idea how you would prevent non cop related footage, but if we’re going to go full on 24/7 surveillance state, we can at least make it public.

  2. Allison says

    My own take on this is that the real problem isn’t the police.
    I don’t think the police would be doing this stuff if they didn’t think they had the approval and support of the power structure and the tacit approval or toleration by the majority of the population.

    It isn’t the police departments that are refusing to indict, or waiting around and then dropping the charges or deliberately bungling prosecution cases. It isn’t the police departments that are publishing biased reports or just plain lies. It isn’t the police departments that have ruled that law enforcement agencies of all flavors have blanket immunity, no matter how unreasonable or abusive their acts. It isn’t the police departments that fill prime time TV with images of black men as criminals who deserve the brutal repression they suffer. Or who do their best to present black victims of police (or civilian) violence as thugs while presenting their (white) killers as saints.

    Or who choose to elect politicians based on their promises to enforce “law and order” and to ignore or repeal any protections for the unjustly accused. (I was stuck on a Grand Jury for a while, and I was dismayed at how many grand jurors insisted that anybody that we were asked to indict must be guilty low-lifes who didn’t deserve even the minimal legal protection that a grand jury is supposed to provide — but usually doesn’t.)

    The USA (and maybe other countries, too) has a culture of brutality, violence, and racism. If there was any doubt about it, the fact that an openly racist and thuggish man could become president and continue to be supported by a near-majority of the voters even after all the damage he has done to them, says how embedded brutality and bigotry are in this country.

    And many of the rest of the people don’t really care what the police do, as long as it isn’t done to them and they can continue to live their comfortable lives as they are accustomed to. (Cf. MLK on white moderates.)

    The cops don’t care what people might see them do because they know that they’re just doing what an awful lot of people want them to do, especially the people in power, and that the rest of the people don’t really care (as long as they don’t have to see.)

  3. says

    I don’t use the “apple” metaphor. I view it as a machine.

    If you add just one part that is radioactive, that toxin will spread to the others and make the whole thing dangerous. Once it is toxic, replacing parts won’t do any good – you have the bury the thing in concrete and build a new machine from untainted parts.

  4. komarov says

    “””NYPD has – apparently – never heard the dictum, “you have nothing to hide if you haven’t done anything wrong.””””

    It’s probably lesson one for rookies, the sentenced drilled into them until they mumble it in their sleep, always followed by a therefore about leaving no evidence.

    “””The NYPD’s responsiveness has “steadily gotten worse,””””

    Presumably the old learning curve at work: What happens if we don’t play along? Nothing? Well then, let’s re-evaluate our policy on sharing incriminating material.

    “”” putting electrical tape over their badge numbers”””

    This makes me wonder, where is the (legal) boundary between “clearly idenfitiable cop” and “potential impostor?” Most of the kit in the photo is probably available for purchase somewhere or, if not, reasonable facsimiles. Impostors aren’t a new idea, so where is the concerned citizen expected to draw the line? The badge number is the personal identifier of a particular cop but without it, would it be reasonable to assume they’re an impostor? That would make them an armed criminal, highly dangerous and you could shoot them claiming self-defence.
    After all, the tape can only mean one of two things: They’re a cop doing something illegal and hence avoiding identification, or they’re criminal pretending to be a cop and the tape is probably meant to obscure the part of a toy badge that would give it away as such.

    Of course, if the pretender turns out to have been an actual cop you might never see your day in court, which is a downside. If you don’t get killed by a police drone strike (only a matter of time) you’ll probably be overrun by cops or, if you manage to get arrested alive, end up commiting suicide in your cell by being beaten to death just as the camera system breaks down. It’s been glitchy for years, you know?

    “””civilian car-trackers that can be surreptitiously attached under a cruiser’s bumper, that provide evidence of which cop was where”””

    If you’re suggesting cop cars are equipped with those by default then why aren’t they already and how long would it take for coppers to undermine that system, too? If you’re suggesting civillians sneak them onto cop cars then I’d predict the evidence would be dismissed immediately as “illegal surveillance” because the irony would be too delicious to pass up. Besides, if cops are irritable now they’d be even worse if they have to make bug-sweeping part of their daily routine.

  5. StevoR says

    @ 5 : jrkrideau :

    Re body camn. Reverse onus. No footage, automatic presumption of guilt.

    Yes – and also have those police bodycams being mandatory and any failure or absence of camera automatically nullies all evidence and disqualifies that cop from being legally considered a cop. So that if you are a cop and you don’t have a camera you’re not allowed to serve until you have your body camera on and working. All cop cameras to stream live publicly to a forum online where anyone a special overseeing group made up of people hostile to police excesses including past victims of police brutality** and lawyers* can access it anytime including mirroring and recording for legal use.

    @ 2. Allison :

    The USA (and maybe other countries, too) has a culture of brutality, violence, and racism.

    Yes. Australia, sadly, is in a very similar situation re : police culture. Especially regarding our Indigenous people.

    We also have Copwatch here too. See :

    Copwatch is an education program and app for the Australian Aboriginal Community to help improve engagement, trust and accountability between police and Aboriginal people. The Copwatch app lets you record interactions with police – safely and legally.

    Like :

    which has this :

    * I ws originally thinking anyone then realised that would allow exploitation and privacy issues for thos ebeing investigated by the cops so no.

    ** Assuming they choose to be on it. Voluntary basis obvs. But overseeing group mad eup of ppl who are NOT onthe cops side and can be relied on to give them serious scrutiny not just accept their side.

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