Momentum grows for police body cameras

Momentum grows for police body cameras

Minority ReportFor critics of police misconduct looking for an easy fix, one solution towers above the rest: affix video cameras to cops. The idea is picking up steam in California, where top officials are showing increased interest.

Yet this also is a time when concerns about data harvesting and government surveillance are also increasing. So questions remain as to whether augmenting oversight with “foolproof” technology contributes to a frame of mind that doesn’t serve civil liberties as much as advocates might hope.

California’s on-body camera experiment is already underway in Los Angeles. As the Los Angeles Times reports, Police commissioner Steve Soboroff led the push, raising $1 million for an effort expected to culminate in some 600 body cams to be used across the LAPD. But with Police Chief Charlie Beck describing the cameras as “the future of policing,” future growth seems assured, barring some unexpected mishap.

Who, indeed, wants to be seen taking a stand against the future — especially the future of public safety? In San Diego, the Times points out, politicians are lining up to endorse the rosy view. There, the city council has allocated twice Los Angeles’ planned spend, with city officials joining the incoming and outgoing chief of police in embracing cop cams.

Southern California’s swell of institutional support is a strong indication of one powerful trend — government enthusiasm toward enlisting technology in pursuit of public safety perfection. The case for videocams on police pitches a dual rationale that seems to benefit both those who govern and those who are governed. Citizens get a body of evidence in the event of officer misconduct. And officers — and departments — get protection from adverse verdicts and costly settlements in litigation surrounding alleged abuse.

What’s missing from that balanced equation, however, is a reckoning with the broader implications of perpetual police surveillance. The logic behind ubiquitous officer-mounted video does not stop with miniature automated camcorders.


The degree to which cops are “wired” is limited only by the state of the technological art. The New York City Police Department predictably now is testing Google Glass for use on the streets. The “future of policing” permitted by technology is a future where police operations work more and more like military ones — with officers back at headquarters closely monitoring and directing cops in the field, using real-time, first-person video and information.

For civil liberties advocates concerned about what The Washington Post’s Radley Balko calls “the rise of the warrior cop,” that’s not exactly a reason for optimism. So long as no-knock raids, aggressive SWAT techniques, and unreasonable or warrantless searches flourish under judicial protection, invasive and violent policing can become the norm, no matter how well-documented.

It’s a process that can be accelerated by Americans’ frequent sense that a muscular, active police force is a sign of social and political progress, and by the pipeline that so often leads prosecuting attorneys “who get results” to seek and gain higher political office.

Yet the main argument against the trend set by on-body police cameras fails to think very far ahead. The American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, which generally accepts the move toward cop cams, focuses almost entirely on ensuring that cameras cannot be edited or turned off by the cops who wear them.

Yet many Americans are very uncomfortable with the idea of “always-on” webcams embedded in their video game consoles. Isn’t the always-on issue even more salient when it’s an entire police force equipped in that way?

Not only is the bodycam trend apt to feed — and increase — the huge federal and other government appetite for monitoring and databasing. It’s also likely to atrophy our shared standards of individual responsibility, neighborhood trust and civic freedom.

In a world where every interaction with an officer is monitored, recorded, overseen and archived, our relationship to power is fundamentally changed — even if the kind of extralegal abuse associated with high-profile litigation against police departments disappears.

Now at the forefront of the tech revolution in policing, California’s often anti-establishmentarian citizens have a unique opportunity to question whether “the system” should forever be put between every private person and every law enforcement official.


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  1. Ted O'Steele, CEO
    Ted O'Steele, CEO 21 April, 2014, 14:23

    I like the idea of police cams– but the pansy citizenry will be squeeeeeeeeemish about what it takes to police. I for one will enjoy the hyper-gadflyism and applying the Ted Steele System ™ prn.

    Reply this comment
    • Rex the Wonder Dog!
      Rex the Wonder Dog! 21 April, 2014, 19:53

      Teddy, you should hate them, as you would probably incriminate yourself left and right.

      My local PD has them, as well as dash cams, and they are a gold mine because they protect both the cop and the citizens from misconduct. I personally caught a cop in a perjured statement proven up by the dash cam and his digital audio recorder, which is what the body cam replaced.

      I love them~~!!!!

      Reply this comment
    NTHEOC 21 April, 2014, 16:38

    Hopefully these cameras will eliminate the ability of the gangbanger moms or any other criminal to file the BS lawsuits for police use of force! Police will also have the protection the camera provides when the thugs and disrespectful know they are on camera constantly. I love it!

    Reply this comment
  3. Ted O'Steele, CEO
    Ted O'Steele, CEO 21 April, 2014, 17:17

    NTHEOC— you can count on the fact that these cams would kill a ton of meritless trash suits at a very early stage— and of course be good evidence against a cop in the rare good case of abuse.

    Reply this comment
  4. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 21 April, 2014, 23:46

    Cheap shot artists make one sick!

    Reply this comment
  5. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 22 April, 2014, 18:28

    Poodle ramp up the snow cone machine….hear Big Betty is back and she is your evening shift supervisor….maybe you’ll hook up Friday for ribs and Old Milwaukee at Brutus’ Biker Oasis in Boron!

    Reply this comment
  6. Cindy
    Cindy 22 April, 2014, 20:40

    It would certainly end discussions on illegal searches which are occurring daily according to ex police reports.

    Reply this comment
  7. Donkey
    Donkey 27 April, 2014, 09:03

    I like the use of the camera on RAGWUS LE sociopaths, it communicates the IQ of these GED misogynists. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  8. Ian Random
    Ian Random 23 May, 2014, 00:34

    1000000/600 = $1600 piece? I found a cheap one for $20 without the SD card.

    Reply this comment
  9. Muhammad
    Muhammad 7 July, 2014, 07:24

    With someone who has been around so long, a critic of hers could easily find a legit reason to be so
    critical. Human psychology comes into play, and people begin to believe
    what they want to believe, even in absence of hard evidence.
    Now that the first obvious fact is spelled out for you, the simple
    answer is that Fox news hates all Democrats.

    Reply this comment

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