BART cops get shirt-pocket snitch-cams

San Francisco BART police are going to start wearing video cameras that record their interactions with the public (transit cops in SF have committed some controversial high-profile shootings lately). The cameras are tamper-"proof" (in practice, more like "tamper-resistant," I'm sure) but officers have to manually activate the cameras to make them work.

I'm guessing that even honest cops will forget to turn on their cameras in most potentially dangerous interactions. After all, danger situations are rare, and things you do infrequently are things you forget to do. And for crooked cops (or cops who make mistakes, or lose their cool), this provides good cover for "forgetting" (rather than merely forgetting) to turn on your snitch. Plus the placement makes it easy to accidentally (or "accidentally") cover up the lens with a pocket-flap, arm, or random moop.

Officers wearing the cameras won't be able to delete or tamper with the videos they shoot - that all has to be done back in the station once the video is downloaded to a computer. The only caveat is that the officer actually has to flip the camera on to begin recording. Seems simple enough, but it could be tricky if an officer suddenly finds himself in the sort of hostile situation that needs to be recorded. "The idea is to make the camera as much as a tool for police as a Taser or radio," CBS explains.

The transit police force had mentioned the possibility of rolling out lapel cams in recent months, but has been slow to make any changes even after weeks of protests. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano recently spoke out about the lack of action on the part of BART's Board of Directors and especially Mark Smith, the independent auditor hired three months ago to review BART PD operations, who has yet to hire any staff

(via JWZ)


  1. This is great and all but they need to be on all the time. Taking the wrong excerpt from a situation can easily show only one side of the story.

    If the idea is to watch the police then these should be issued to all BART passengers along with their tickets.

  2. well, as long as I’m allowed to wear one too….and I can assure you, if I have interactions with the cops I WON’T forget to turn mine on.

  3. Gosh, you could almost surmise that this was carefully designed in such a way to avoid catching any actual corrupt or brutal cops.

    If I were king fat-cat dictator of the world, I would
    – set them up so that they are simply on all the time
    – retain all recordings for some set period of time (at least 30 days) in case of complaints
    – retain all recordings of periods during which the riot act was in effect for a year or more
    – require the cops to hand over to defence counsel all recordings of an arrested person’s interactions with police – not just arresting officers, but everyone – as a matter of routine paperwork
    – in the absence of such recordings, place the burden of proof on officers to prove that the arrest was legal, that the arrestee got their rights read to them, that there was no brutality, etc.
    – where the cops fail to provide such proof, have the case dismissed.

    1. “step in the right direction” is how they get away with doing nothing beyond placebos like this theatrical number. It placates those that want to see *some* progress until they are distracted by the next thing.

  4. Let me guess: After heroic engineering effort, they were totally unable to come up with any way of having the camera trigger by the removal of baton, taser, or sidearm from its stowed location; because things like hall-effect sensors, IR photointerrupter units, and similar instrumentation are science fiction. The fact that sensitive, very low power, microphones will not be invented until after 2035 also prevented the creation of a camera that activates once people start shouting in its immediate proximity.

    But I bet they gave it their best shot…

    1. I came here to say this same thing…like a microswitch on the holster snap would take more than a couple dollars to implement.   I’m willing to bet there is one on Instructables now.

  5. How about it turns on automatically (if not already running) when the sidearm is pulled from the holster…
    EDIT: didn’t see phisrow’s comment above until I reloaded the page. His sarcasm said it better than I did.

  6. This is a great idea -the equivalent of a dash cam for officers that walk a beat. Officers should be required to turn on the camera every time they interact with someone and be disciplined if they don’t. Not only will it protect them if they get caught up in a situation where another officer is doing something illegal or stupid, it should also (hopefully), make them think twice before doing something against their SOPs, since everything they do will always be recorded.
    Anyone know make and model of the camera? I’d like to get one.

  7. or, have it “switch on” any time they pass into the platform area. a rfid switch at the top of the stairs and bottom. pass top one before the bottom it turns ON. pass bottom before top, turns OFF.

    then again i guess if they are chasing someone out…..

    bah nevermind!!!! just keep the thing on all the time. it’ll make those bathroom breaks shorter as well!

  8. Not sure you can have them on all the time and have storage space to keep all the footage on the device and still get decent quality from them. It takes a lot of processor power to compress video for storage so to live record and compress and store video would probably take too large a device at this time.
    I see others have suggested capture triggers like pulling your weapon or audio cues. Random activations for 10-20 minutes might also be a good idea (although the occasional bathroom break capture might cause a problem).

    1. I bought a tiny lapel camera from a few months back. Quality’s not fantastic and the battery life is poor, but it records continually at about 1Gb per hour of video. It’s only motion-jpeg, but it’s VGA resolution. If the battery life was more than 90min it could film until it filled an 8Gb microSD card, no problem. There’s no problem with processing power, only battery life. To reach the needed battery life would only take it from being the size of my thumb up to being the size of a pack of cigarettes.
      I would resolve this by having it produced as a battery module for the police radios. No police officer in their right mind would turn off their radio or leave it behind. Tie the camera into that. With more integration that could develop into sending stills or video to dispatch.

    2. Not sure you can have them on all the time and have storage space to keep all the footage on the device and still get decent quality from them.

      You definitely could. Given the size, capacity and cost of flash storage these days, it would actually probably be trivial to keep a constant record at 720p resolution. Batteries wouldn’t be much a problem, since I’m assuming they already carry at least one battery pack for their portable radios.

  9. Why, when I read this:

    Officers wearing the cameras won’t be able to delete or tamper with the
    videos they shoot – that all has to be done back in the station once the
    video is downloaded to a computer.

    Do I hear this:

    “The police are not here to create disorder, they’re here to preserve disorder”. Richard Daley, former Chicago mayor.

    And if you break it down it fixes nothing. Read it as 2 separate sentences.

    Officers wearing the cameras won’t be able to delete or tamper with the
    videos they shoot.

    That all has to be done back in the station once the
    video is downloaded to a computer.

    1.  Dammit.  _I_ came here to say that!  “won’t be able to delete or tamper with the videos they shoot – that all has to be done back in the station”  *snort*

    1. Exactly. Whoever was speaking in the quoted blurb called it a “tool for police.” No one should expect any improvement in officer behavior or accountability as a result of this tool.

  10. The problem isn’t the cops monitoring themselves. The problem is the cops preventing others from monitoring them. Prohibition of public surveillance in public places of public officers is becoming more and more of a problem despite the fact that it violates no laws.

    As long as the cop controls the surveillance (their own, or from others), nothing changes.

  11. I suspect these are more intended to defend the police against accusations of misconduct than defend the public against the misconduct of police.  I suspect they’ll be quite powerful for that purpose, as they more or less allow those judging the police’s actions to see directly through their eyes.

    They shouldn’t be able to turn them off (and the footage, like any evidence, should be handled by an impartial third party).  But as it is, I think anyone would be skeptical of a camera that “happened” to be off when an attack occurs.

  12. I interviewed with the company that makes Tasers, while they were developing this exact product or something pretty similar. It was actually pretty smartly set up to be tamper-proof. I believe the only difference was that their camera was on all the time EXCEPT when an officer would explicity shut it off – for lunch, going to the bathroom, etc. At the end of the day, the recorded video would be ejected in some form (perhaps an SD card) and sealed, and not be opened except via court order or something similar.

    One of the sales points for police departments was that this actually increased ticket revenue, as it left for less leeway among police officers. Which is the real dirty secret of most police departments nowadays – they exist less for crime suppression and more for bringing more money into the town without raising taxes on those who run the towns.

  13. While it’s not ideal, it’s also better than it sounds.

    Step 1: make all police officers carry cameras, and instruct them to turn their cameras on
    Step 2: a lawyer wins a case with the argument “the police lied, and by failing to turn on their camera they have prevented us from seeing vital evidence”
    Step 3: police officers who make arrests with their cameras turned off start getting fired

    Sure, corrupt officers will still find ways to block the cameras. Today, they still break into houses without warrants and “lose” evidence.

    But that is not the point of the exercise

  14. Here in Seattle, our police department, who are considering a pilot program for Coban’s VieVu system (what BART are using) and currently use Coban’s dash cam video system, refuse to provide dashcam video to “uninvolved parties” until the statutes of limitation on civil and criminal litigation run out, which is about three years.  Their data retention policy has them purging videos at three years.

    KOMO-TV are suing them for violations of the Public Records Act, and recently reported that 45,000 dash cam videos went missing.

    I’m working with a friend on making the department’s video access log available on the Web.  We expect to have something ready for use next week.

  15. The privacy implications, or more likely lack of privacy, is terrifying. The police in Seattle annouced in September they would start using them as well However, I find myself not so optimistic that they will prevent negative behavior by officers.

    1. “However, I find myself not so optimistic that they will prevent negative behavior by officers.”
      Agreed. There were way too many people who viewed the full Rodney King tape and still sided with the cops. I wonder what it would take to prove police brutality to those people.

  16. Our local police have cameras installed on their dash that record continuously. Footage is deleted after fifteen minutes unless the siren or emergency lights are activated. If either of those things occur, the video is retained and cannot be deleted by the officer. It is automatically downloaded wirelessly when they are within range of the jail. 

    I think something like this would be desirable, but there are *some* situations where the police officer actually has an expectation of privacy even while on the job (e.g. bathroom break).  I’m really not sure that it is feasible with an officer on foot.

  17. They need to pair this with a law that says in any case where the officer had a camera but neglected to turn it on, the officer would always lose any he said/she said argument.

  18. “Officers wearing the cameras won’t be able to delete or tamper with the
    videos they shoot – that all has to be done back in the station once the
    video is downloaded to a computer.”

    LOL. Back at the station is where the cover-up will begin. (I don’t mean to sound exactly that cynical, but breakdown the sentence. “that all has to be done back in the station”. What does “that” refer back to? = Deleting or tampering with the videos.)

    Actually it’s spooky. For honest cops, it could be like a personal “black box” recorder.

  19. Phase One: Complete.

    Phase Two: Rely on cops to record their own crimes and assaults to be used against them.

  20. Giving them the choice to forget to record incidents was a poor move. The cameras are 100% ineffective because of it.

    Solution: Wire the mic to the recording switch, anything above indoor voices commits the last 5 minutes of footage to storage, and starts recording on top. Make it mandatory for every public servant who carries a weapon. Put a non-government entity in charge of footage collection and storage.

  21. I wrote, re-edited and rewrote a longer response to this topic .. but I couldn’t come up anything short yet eloquent enough to articulate my disappointment regarding all the negative comments shown above regarding Police (and no, I’m not, nor have I ever been involved with LE). These cameras are a tool, and like any tool they have the potential to save lives and prevent abuse as much as they do to be used incorrectly. There is no perfect solution to set a camera to only record under conditions we approve (especially so when the majority of us disagree on what those conditions even ARE). But having the tool is much better than NOT having it. In cases of abuse it gives us evidence to see what happened,. .and in cases of legitimate crimes it obviously helps contribute data towards a legitimate conviction. Believing that there’s some widespread Blue Line conspiracy to tamper with all incoming video evidence is as ridiculous at 9/11 truthers or Hale Bopp suicide cults. Also,.. the existence of this tool doesn’t pre-empt other additional non-Police cameras for corroborating or disproving context of a recorded situation. Lets try to keep level heads.

  22. Ive thought about this for a long time. At the very least the camera on switch should be triggered by an officer pulling out his gun

  23. A simple motion sensor circuit (like on an iPhone) connected to the taser, gun, or radio could automatically activate the camera for the next 15 minutes.

  24. I’ve just been reading Bittle Brother as well.. so prescient… where’s m1ck3y when you need him…

Comments are closed.