Cops on Camera?

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Police body cameras are being pushed as a solution to all the police woes. They sound great on paper: Every interaction with the public will be recorded, in a manner that is court-approved and tamper “resistant” – so if something gets out of hand the incident will be logged by the unblinking eye.

Sounds great, right? Keep the cops accountable. Wrong! Accountable cops is the last thing any of us should want. I’ll explain: Those cameras are going to be recording everything that the cop does. If you knew everything you did at work was recorded, would you continue working the way you do today? Do you do everything in your job exactly the way your employer wants you to do it? Have you ever bent the rules to help resolve a problem for a customer?

20 years ago, a truck driver filled out his logbook with a pen and signed off on it. Sometimes he might run a little over the mandatory 18 hours, if he was trying to get to a good restaurant, or maybe he overslept and needed to make up time, whatever. That log book might show a little slack, but I’m sure no one ever filled out the log saying they drove for 28 hours straight, even if they were verbally instructed to do it. Then Qualcomm introduced OmniTracs, which brought real-time satellite tracking and reporting to the trucking industry (look for a little white dome on roof of the cab). Now, every time the driver started the vehicle it was logged, along with every mile and every stop. No more paper logbook. I’m sure the industry got a real wake-up call when they started seeing the true logbooks. Ever wonder why you see trucks lined up at on-ramps and rest areas? Because the rule (law) says they have to stop, now. Ever try sleeping in a bed that’s tilted 10 degrees downhill? Wouldn’t it be nicer to drive an extra hour or so to the truck stop and have a hot meal and a shower before bed? The “unblinking eye” of the Qualcomm box doesn’t care about meals and showers, only that you’ve been driving for 18 hours.

When police cameras are recording, managers will have a powerful tool for evaluating the beat cop. The cop will be second-guessed on just about everything they do. Let’s say he pulls over someone for speeding. He smells beer and so has him blow a breathalyzer test. He reads just over .08, but he’s only a few blocks from home, and out with the wife and kids (heck, let’s say it’s his birthday -which the cop would know from checking his license). So he decides to cut him some slack and give him a warning for the speeding. No harm, no foul. I’m sure (despite what we are led to believe by the Internet and the media) it happens thousands of times a day, at least outside the cities.

Now add a camera. 0.08 is over the legal limit for alcohol. It’s not a grey area: 0.07 is ok to drive. 0.08 is over the limit. The speed limit is 65MPH. The radar showed the vehicle traveling at 70MPH. Maybe his immediate supervisor reviewing his body camera footage will cut him some slack, but if it happens too many times, someone somewhere is going to want to know why it continues. When push comes to shove, the supervisor will stop defending his beat cop and side with management, because that’s what supervisors do (I know, I used to be one). That beat cop will hand out tickets for everything, without regard to human frailty or exception. That’s for the judge to decide, right? And God help him if the cop is on camera doing something he shouldn’t because he’s trying to help out. That’s right out the door. Let them bleed out while waiting for a “qualified” medic to show up.

For what it’s worth, I’m not especially enamored with citizens recording police either, at least if they have to inform the cop they are recording. You go ahead and record your interactions with the police, but keep me out of it. Again, it’s the third party getting the opportunity to add their opinion. The only third party should be a judge (if it comes to that), not the public. Our legal system was built on the idea that a lot of officer discretion was not only desirable, but necessary. How many times did you do something that was illegal, but not intentional? Well, the law doesn’t say “…but only if he actually meant to do it,” it just says it’s wrong. Good police know that and will keep it in mind when dealing with people. This is why we laughed at Barney Fife and respected Andy Griffith.

Once you take that power away from the front line cops, it’s all over.

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  1. Eric,
    I remember posting on a thread a while back about not liking body cameras for pigs. My main reason was–and still is–that they will use it as an excuse because of officer safety, it will be made illegal for people to record cops because “they all have body cameras so there’s no need to film them”.

    You have made some points from another angle I had not considered though. There’s useful, great technology biting us again–because of controlling statist assholes. Government ruins every good and praiseworthy thing. It’s a shame.

    An aside on the electronic logs. A robot basically tells the driver when he’s tired and when he’s not. This makes it more dangerous. A computer cannot make reasoned judgement.

  2. There was only the one typo I mentioned, I believe. Seemed like first class prose to me: very good flow and impetus throughout.

    It’d be nice if a funny pic could be added to your article. Like this one:

    Flaws can always be found with the deeds and writings of those who go first. That’s what makes doing so important. I hope you write many more articles here.

    Without Eric and the rest of you, I’d be even more of an allusive Joycean jumble.

    The greater the pool of primary contributors. The larger the pool of secondary contributors able to stand on the shoulders of the avant garde and see even more clearly.

    A secondary derivative declaration:

    I hold my truths to be self-evident, that I am a man created in the usual way, and endowed by universal particles and principles with certain unalienable liberties.

    Among these are the right to fight for Life, Liberty, Property, and the pursuit of my Happiness as I envision it.

    That to secure these rights, skills were imparted to me by family and friend, and that henceforth I will be deriving my just powers to the limits of my abilities and kind continued support of my kin and comrades.

    That whatever Form of Government exists is inherently destructive to these ends, and it is my sacred vow to avoid, alter, or abolish any such violent pretense, and to institute instead an individual state of unbridled anarchy and unaccountability to all strangers, friend or foe, and laying my foundations on such principles and cooperating powers in such form of commerce and value production, as to me shall seem most likely to suit my needs and further my purpose.

  3. Some thoughts about cop cameras.

    1. For the guy killed for selling cigarettes, it was taped showing the cops breaking the law, and yet, the cops weren’t indicted, for anything. They are back out on the street. Same thing with the cop in my area who smashed out the car window and tazed the guy for not wearing a seatbelt. He got praised by the mayor for being a great cop………………

    Just because you got the cop to rights on camera doesn’t mean he will ever face justice for the crimes he committed against you.

    2. The point about cops letting people off on dumb little things is dead on. All the boss has to do is watch the video a few times, and no cop will ever give anyone a break anymore. You just know they will use the tape for checking up on the officers.

    3. My brother is a film maker. He says you can edit anything to look like anything you want it too. People will tamper with videos. That means police will be doing it too.

    • The other problem is that all this stuff is going to be archived and stored forever, and might just be used against you some day.

    • A very good read, and something I hadn’t considered.

      I did find a few errors though. Everything after “The only third party…” should be probably be deleted:

      The only third party should be a judge (if it comes to that), not the public.
      – Why should some jackhole in a man dress have any say over my life, unless I personally give him my authorization? These are the words of a slave.

      Our legal system was built on the idea that a lot of officer discreion[sic] was not only desirable, but necessary.
      – It’s not my legal system. I’m not their slave. FTP and F the legal system.

      How many times did you do something that was illegal, but not intentional?
      – Who can even say what is ‘illegal’. The law says exactly whatever Humpty Dumpty says it does.

      Well, the law doesn’t say “…but only if he actually meant to do it,” it just says it’s wrong.
      – It is a folly for a slave to concern himself with master’s laws. He should concern himself with freedom and escaping subjugation.

      Good police know that and will keep it in mind when dealing with people
      – Good police? Huh? Reading this last paragraph is like pieces of glass in my head boss. Make it stop, boss. I’m tired of being a slave boss.

      Silly Voices at the Police Station. Monty Python.

      • Oh, I understand your point (and sorry about the typos, I’m not a good proofreader, apparently). No one walked up to you and asked if you agreed with the law. I get it. Ultimately we all are looking down the barrel of gun. A gun pointed at us by the state for failure to follow their laws.

        But the state still needs us. They can’t fight their wars and hand out their largess without a strong tax base. We’re the collateral for the debt. Without us paying our “fair share” their bonds won’t be worth the bits they’re created of. That’s why they’re so obsessed with unemployment, because if we stop paying “our fair share” they won’t be able to borrow anymore. It nearly happened a few years ago, when the housing bubble burst. The rating agencies were ready to drop the credit rating, until suddenly they didn’t. That’s not going to be possible to do forever, especially when we see so many poorly educated kids not ready for the workforce.

        The true danger is the Washington insider who fails to grasp that fact. They’re the ones buying all the hollow point bullets. My fear is that they are the ones in charge and that it’s too late to turn back.

  4. Well, the law doesn’t say “…but only if he actually meant to do it,” – actually it used to. It was a concept called ‘mens rea,’ a Latin phrase having to do criminal intent. None of the the old Lavrenti Beria saying, “show me the man and I will show you the crime.”

    • Have you heard of LEOBoR’s? Law Enforcement Officer’s Bill of Rights
      Why should ‘they’ have any more rights than the average citizen? If anything, they should be held to a higher standard.