Jun 20, 2011

Cams for Cops?

A solution to Police Brutality? Bruce Harrel is advocating for Body Cams for Cops.

Here is the reaction from a few S2 staff:

I kind of like it, but worry they will cheat somehow and really get away with mass murder. - Laura

This could in principle be a big stride forward in police accountability, but I worry about cheating in practice - video evidence does have a distressing way of disappearing when its inconvenient to the people who control the recording.

Some time ago I was involved in some student protests, which the police were called in to break up. One of the ways they tried to intimidate us was by very prominently using "evidence-gathering units" (i.e. teams of officers with video cameras) and threatening prosecutions. However, this could also be a good way to catch any police wrongdoing, because the relevant law at the time obliged the police to release the footage to anyone who was in it. As a very clean-living but distinctive looking individual who had nothing to hide, my job was to make sure I broke no laws, but was clearly in as many officers' footage as possible, to make sure that we could have access to video evidence if necessary. In practice getting access is never as easy as it should be. Individual officers claim to be entirely unaware of the relevant law, and the bureaucracy just throws as many obstacles in the way as possible.

So, in other words: body cameras could be a great thing, *if* in reality all interested parties will have equal access to the footage. But if the police can limit others' access they're at best useless, and at worst a tool for intimidation. - Eldan

I don't think I like this. On the one hand, I like the possibility this presents in preventing officers from bending the law and not telling the whole truth to people, often leaving them ignorant of their rights. (This all assumes these cameras record audio)

On the other hand, this effort, while attempting to do the opposite in a way, undermines it. I'm conflicted, because as much as I think we need to, I am not comfortable babysitting the police. People with guns who are hired to protect and keep the public safe shouldn't need babysitting, but frankly, I understand that they do.

Eldan also makes a very good point. - Andrew

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