Saturday, January 3, 2015

Should Cops wear Body Cameras? I am skeptical.

Our President has requested $264 million to fund police body cameras for street cops – our ‘thin blue line.’  I have my doubts that this is such a good idea.  It is a questionable use of tax payers’ money, and is premised on what is basically, in my opinion, a knee-jerk decision.

Yes, of course, the President’s action is because of the high-profile Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases involving police shootings.  First off, the Eric Garner arrest, which led to Garner's unfortunate death, was filmed.  Secondly, there seems to have been adequate witness testimony in the Michael Brown case – and it is doubtful that a filmed version would have changed anyone’s opinion as to what actually occurred.

Some will say ‘What’s the down side?’  ‘What can it hurt?’  I’m not really sure; but, to me, there seems to be a lot of unanswered questions.

I don’t know exactly what is intended.  However, in Oregon, you can’t record sound (like a conversation) unless both parties are aware that they are being recorded.  That’s easy, some will argue, Officers can advise all those they contact that they are being recorded.  Think about it.  A police officer might have dozens of contacts during a typical shift.

Secondly, can the officer turn the camera on and off?  Defense Attorneys will love this.  ‘And, Officer Smith, why wasn’t your camera on in the two minutes before you exited the car to approach the defendant?’

Will rough talk by police officers be gleaned from past recorded videos?  And, subsequently used against them in court to attack their credibility, their professionalism?  Or, attempt to determine a pattern of conduct?  Do not police officers have some expectation of privacy during the course of their shift?  They are not robots.  They are human beings doing a difficult job, under often dangerous situations.

And, consider this:  There is a shooting in a neighborhood.  The officers go door-to-door attempting to quickly get a suspect description.  If you were a neighbor and happened to know that the shooter was a local gang-banger will you cooperate with police, realizing that you’re being filmed and your conversation recorded?  I’m not sure I would.  The casually informed public should understand, at least I hope they do, that police often get tips from individuals that are valid and lead to arrests – although the potential witness will deny cooperation later.  Again, one might respond, ‘Well, the detectives don’t need to wear cameras.’  Alright, but much good information is obtained by the first officers on the scene.

I guess my main point is, ‘What person wants to wear a camera recording their every move during an eight or ten hour shift?’

Why don’t fire-fighters, prison guards, parole and probation, and all security personnel wear cameras?  What about surgeons, child welfare employees, or teachers?  They get sued from time to time.  They also commit crimes.  Shouldn’t we know how they are conducting themselves?  Where does it stop?

I do think that cameras on police patrol vehicles is a good idea.  I do think that is more than adequate.

There has to be an element of trust, an element of respect, extended to those in law enforcement.  If not, who but a complete knucklehead would even want to take the job?

True Nelson
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