Wednesday, November 9, 2011

CCTV: Candid Cop Television

Smile for the birdie, kids!

From NPR: As More Police Wear Cameras, Policy Questions Arise

This article from NPR takes a look at the spreading trend of police departments across the nation adopting small video cameras that are attached to their uniforms, and the mixed reactions they are stirring, amongst police unions and private citizens alike.

Produced by private companies with names like Taser and Vievu, these cameras are designed to be worn on the front of an officer's uniform and are capable of recording up to 4 hours of audio and video. The hope of this initiative is to remove the "He said - She said" aspect of police encounters with the public. And with the increased number of accusations of misconduct in departments nationwide, it's a small wonder that many departments were quick to pick up the technology.

Many police officers seem to have little problem with the new addition to their fatigue. For many, the only added responsibility is they now have to begin each interaction with the public by informing the citizen they are being recorded. In fact, the only complaint that crops up according to the NPR piece is that officers are unable to turn off the cameras, even at the request of the citizen being filmed. While the inability to refuse being filmed is certainly unsettling, it is more reassuring to know that the officer can not turn off the camera at will. Of course, until you read the fine text under the picture of the charming blonde from Vievu displaying one of their cameras that informs you that the officer must remove the cameras protective covering to begin filming.

And here is where the dissenters start chiming in. Sure, it may be against department policy to turn off the camera under any circumstance, but it's also certainly against policy for an officer to attempt to hide his name and badge number while on duty. And as recent OWS footage from Oakland has shown, officers have still been known to do this. Also, it is not department policy to use mace or pepper spray against non-violent protesters. But again, thanks to the actions of one of New York' finest - Tony Baloney - we have seen that this is not a policy that is always steadfastly held, either. And since the release informing the public that Tony Baloney's punishment would be the loss of ten paid vacation days when many were screaming for him to lose his position, the public has seen how serious the police take to penalizing those who disregard department regulations.

OK, sure, the cops might flip their cameras closed during some encounters with citizens. Certainly such a problem could be remedied by a small alteration on the production side. But the public misgivings regarding these cameras is not rooted in mistrust of police choosing opportune times to turn on their cameras.

As most anyone who has ever requested footage from the dashboard camera of a police cruiser can tell you, there are two distinct responses for such queries. Either the footage is incriminating against the citizen, and will show up before you even think to ask for it. Or the footage is incriminating against the officer, in which case you would have an easier time pulling teeth from an angry alligator with a pair of tweezers. Odds are, you'd keep more fingers going toe-to-toe with the 'gator, too. Take the example provided of Eric Rachner of Seattle, who spent months before he could even get the department to acknowledge that video footage of his 2008 unlawful arrest existed.

And with the new regulations regarding the Freedom of Information Act empowering the government to knowingly deceive the public by denying the existence of requested information that is deemed to be a "threat to national security", excuse me if I have little faith that these Piggy-cam tapes will be handed over without a fight. The City of Oakland already refuses to supply video footage from traffic stops in which the camera captures an image of the driver's license of registration information unless the sensitive private information is edited out. And since the Oakland PD lacks such refined video editing equipment, any such tape is essentially classified until further notice. And as an aside, who is really comfortable with any discussion of the police having the capability of editing these tapes at their own discretion?

Three Monkeys Say: Never Trust a Pig that Walks on Two Legs.

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