Police, technology and bodycams

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's got a nuanced view on the proposal to give cops body-cams, noting the ACLU's view that these cameras need to be carefully designed so that they don't violate the privacy of citizens or make it easy to cover up official corruption.

More significantly, EFF identifies the major technology question for policing as the transfer of heavy, military armaments to police departments and the deployment of mass surveillance tools (and the "fusion centers" into which they feed) without any oversight, transparency, or public justification.

But others question the efficacy of cameras. After all, the shocking video of police brutality in cases like Eric Garner's have surely helped spark public protest—but didn't discourage the actual conduct. And in reference to multiple specific incidents over the last few years where police were filmed engaging in serious misconduct, Guardian columnist and criminal defense attorney Alexa Van Brunt notes, "video didn't deter them, and it didn't help their victims. Instead, officers in each case thought they could get away with police brutality—and they may have been right."

WeCopwatch's Crawford also points out that in Oakland, one of the first localities to implement the use of body cams, results have not been encouraging. Cameras have issues with battery life, and have "shown themselves highly likely to malfunction during crucial incidents—or fall off, or be left behind or not turned on, despite policies which require officers to wear them and activate them during stops and other encounters." And Oakland's independent police monitor (appointed because of civil rights litigation against the department) noted in a January 2014 report that "[t]he matter of the proper use of the Department's PDRDs remains a concern. In too many instances, there are questions about the measure to which personnel throughout the Department understand the use, review, and utility of these devices."

Finally, as Crawford points out, body cameras don't "show close proximity physical encounters between an officer and victim," while still, "allowing the officer to supply his own narration, such as yelling 'Stop resisting' while pummeling a person."

Obama's Plan for Better Policing: The Good, the Bad, and the Body Cameras
[Nadia Kayyali/EFF]

(Image: West Midlands Police – Day 210, West Midlands Police, CC-BY-SA)