If You Can't Trust A Cop... 13-Year Veteran Of Seattle PD Makes Body Cameras For Cops

from the accountability-is-always-a-good-thing dept

The NYPD may be forced to wear body cameras in the near future, something that makes Bloomberg's veins pulse and eyes start twitching. For some reason, Bloomberg is convinced all these cameras will do is make "his" cops look bad. It's a shame he won't look at the actual results of cops wearing cameras -- other cities that have implemented the technology have noticed a marked decrease in both the deployment of excessive force and number of citizen complaints. It's a win for both sides: the public and their public servants.

But if Bloomberg can't trust the conclusions reached by other PDs, chances are he won't trust the opinion of Steve Ward, a 13-year veteran of the Seattle Police Department.

Steve Ward doesn't care about reasons why the cameras are worn, just that police wear them. Now he wants to put a similar version into the public's hands.

Six years ago, Ward created VieVu, a company that produces a rugged, virtually tamper-proof camera that officers wear that records audio, video, time and GPS information.

Since then, the former Seattle police officer claims VieVu is now the market leader in wearable cameras designed for police use. The company claims 3,000 police departments in 16 countries use them.
Some police personnel express reluctance to wear body cameras, not necessarily because they're bad cops, but because being asked to wear one implies that they are. This same sort of resistance occurred 20 years ago, during the rollout of dashcams. Steve Ward, however, had an uncommon take on the new technology, and on cops and cameras in general.
He got the idea back mid 90s when the 13-year police veteran was part of a magazine profile on bicycle cops and a photographer strapped a camera on him.

"I realized that this is just like those in-car cameras that were just catching on, but the cop wears it," Ward said. "It means you capture everything a cop does, not just the 5-percent that happens in front of the car."

Ward calls it his "ah-ha" moment.
If a cop views "capturing everything" as a positive thing, he immediately stands out as an anomaly. But actual experience with the cameras -- especially the calming effect their use has on angry citizens -- has turned plenty of law enforcement officers into believers. Here's what representatives from two Connecticut police departments had to say about the cameras.
Some New Haven officers have purchased body cameras on their own, Esserman said. It’s a stark contrast from a time when many officers were highly skeptical of dashboard cameras.

“Years ago it was imposed on officers; now it seems many officers think it’s in their best interest,” he said. “I think the world has changed and people are much more comfortable with cameras than they used to be.”


In Branford, Halloran said body cameras have been embraced by his officers.

“Now the attitude of the officers are, if there’s a camera broken down, ‘Well, I want a camera. I’m not going on the road without a camera,’” Halloran said.
VieVu's backend is where Ward's product earns its trustworthiness. Even though officers can control what's recorded via the sliding lens cover, they can't edit or delete footage once its uploaded. This may allow an officer to selectively record interactions with the public, but in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety, the officer has to make the decision before the interaction begins. Any complaint filed by citizens about excessive force or abuse should have some corresponding footage. If it doesn't, (ideally) this lack of footage should cast serious doubts on the officer's narrative of the event, especially since he or she had the opportunity and technology to record the interaction, but chose not to.

The bottom line here is this: if Bloomberg and Chief Kelly (and others like them) can't trust the opinions of a federal court judge or private citizens, surely they can take the word of other cops, right? Or do they trust no one but New York's Finest? When a ex-cop's making body cameras, it's more than simply filling a market. It's an implicit statement that cameras are good for cops -- that it's not simply about forcing bad cops to generate their own damning evidence.

If these cops can't trust other cops, there's no way they view the public as worth respecting… or protecting.



Reader Comments (rss)

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 1:01am

    Those that complain the loudest, have the most to hide.
    We've seen this time and time again.

    One wonders if officers wearing body cams would then cut down on many of the contempt of cop arrests of citizens filming interactions.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 1:55am

      Re:

      Possibly. The issue is not one of confidence, it is one of trust. IT is blatantly obvious that Mayor Bloomberg seems to think that he watches the watchmen, rather than the public.

      It is both the officer's and the public's sovereign duty, in my opinion, that both should police officers' conduct. Anything that hinders that has to pass a high bar to ignore this action.

       

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        That Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 2:53am

        Re: Re:

        Mayor Bloomberg has referred to the NYPD as his own private army.
        They were sent around the globe to work on terrorism, crossed state lines to spy on innocent brown people, and have violated innumerable peoples civil rights.
        When does President Obama give him an ultimatum to treat citizens with respect?

         

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      Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 3:41am

      Re:

      Those that complain the loudest, have the most to hide.
      That's getting dangerously close to "You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide" territory.

      While I agree more or less that "CopCam" is probably a good thing, I can see the argument of a cop who might not necessarily want it or trust the uses that the data could/would be put to whether they are "dirty" or not.

      You aren't OK with someone knowing where you are and what you're doing every moment of the day and that reticence wouldn't vanish just because you became a public servant. Neither, as far as I'm aware, does taking an oath of office make your right to privacy for its own sake vanish.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 4:40am

        Re: Re:

        Yes ... well then they should stfu about the public with cams.

         

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        GreatWhiteWalrus (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 5:15am

        Re: Re:

        A police officer on the job interacting with the public does not have the same privacy rights as a citizen(you don't have the right to object to surveillance cameras on the street recording you dallying with an extra-marital partner, do you?). Except for reasonable exclusions like eating, doing your "personal business", etc., there is no reason that a uniformed police officer should object to his interactions being recorded, either by his own department or by a citizen. As Reagan famously quipped, "Trust but verify!".

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 5:37am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "you don't have the right to object to surveillance cameras on the street recording you"

          Ummmm - yes indeed, I do have the right to object to anything .... last time I checked anyways.


          I can see why the police might object to being recorded - but hey, if they were not violating the law and shirking their responsibilities there might not be a reason to record them. This little tidbit seems to escape their field of vision.

           

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            GreatWhiteWalrus (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 6:00am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Okay, I'll correct my semantic error! :)

            You don't have the right to have a surveillance camera on the street removed or shut off on the grounds it might record your public "personal" activity.

            And you are correct, the right to object remains, as in I have the right to object, if I wish, to Bloomberg growing a walrus mustache....

             

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        Ninja (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 7:56am

        Re: Re:

        That's getting dangerously close to "You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide" territory.

        I think it's quite different. Nobody is saying they should use those cameras when off-duty. But you see, while on the job it seems reasonable. If you work at some place you can't complain about having cameras all around. But there is an issue if they want to put cameras at your home to see if you are leading a good, honest life out of your job. Same for the Govt. There's no problems with maintaining cameras on public spaces but it would be very problematic if they wanted to put cameras inside your property. I guess that's what TAC means there. There's no reasonable justifications not to wear the cameras while on duty considering they CAN turn them off if they want to do something personal even while on-duty.

         

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          Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 9:08am

          Re: Re: Re:

          But you see, while on the job it seems reasonable.
          Yes, I agree. I was pointing out that there is a privacy trade-off that, reasonable or not, has to occur for it to happen and that "Well if they're complaining it must be because they're dirty cops" (yes I know he didn't go that far) may not be the reason for objecting.
          If you work at some place you can't complain about having cameras all around.
          Well, yes you can, though you may not get far. But this isn't "cameras all around", this is far more intimate and personal to a single individual not a single location.

          You seriously wouldn't object to your employer knowing where you are to the metre every moment of your work day and what you're doing? How often you go to the toilet? Whether you take a moment of personal time to call a loved one or arrange a secret assignation while at work? Whether you nip into a shop to grab a pint of milk during a quiet time? How often you take a smoke break? The occasional time when you've just thought "f*ck it!" and done nothing for a bit because your brain's not engaged in the task? Or any one of a thousand other little things that you might naturally do each working day that could be construed as "stealing time" from your employer?
          Would you trust those running the NYPD not to misuse something intended for public security as a blunt weapon against their own staff internally?

           

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            That One Guy (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 9:50am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The problem though is that in most jobs, if an employee is having a bad day, the most damage they can do generally is make someone else's day a little worse, whether it's through lousy service, a contagiously bad attitude, or something along those lines.

            If a cop is having a bad day on the other hand, they can do much, much more damage, from harassing or beating up someone without repercussions('he was resisting arrest', 'it was self defense', 'He took a swing at me and I had to stop him'), all the way up to getting someone tossed in jail, even temporarily, on false charges.

            When you've got a job with that much power, and a history of people who have it abusing their positions with essentially no real punishments, something needs to be done to keep them in check, and personal cameras, that an officer can turn off it they feel they need some privacy, seems like a decent way to handle it.

             

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              Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 3:54pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Yeah, that's why I think it's a reasonable trade-off, but it's still not lacking concerns.

               

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                That One Guy (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 7:30pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Oh I can certainly understand the concerns, but to be blunt, if the police force as a whole has kept itself in check, with the good officers dealing with the bad ones, booting them off the force or even bringing them up on charges if necessary when they stepped over the line and abused their power/authority, it probably wouldn't have come to this.

                Given they've shown no inclination towards policing themselves however, more drastic measures need to be taken, hence the cameras.

                 

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            Ninja (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 10:14am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You seriously wouldn't object to your employer knowing where you are to the metre every moment of your work day and what you're doing?

            That's where I think you didn't get the idea. They can turn off the cameras. From what I understood they only record all the info while turned on. I don't see an issue in carrying such devices and using when performing their duties. Specially because they wield much more power over other people than I would ever do in a standard office heh.

             

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              Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 3:57pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              That's where I think you didn't get the idea. They can turn off the cameras.
              No, I did get that bit, just not convinced it won't be abused for what will amount to political gain. Are you really sure for example that the GPS will be actually off? The NSA's pretty much disproven that haven't they?

               

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        JelliedInfantCompote, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 2:37pm

        Re:Not an Electronic Rodent

        Then don't be a public servant.

         

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    Haywood (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 2:29am

    Robocop

    Are you sure he didn't get the idea from Robocop? That was 26 years ago.

     

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    Sobe (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 3:45am

    The post of New York City Mayor is just a political stepping stone. The longer Bloomnuts stays in power, the more powerful he'll be.

    I definitely don't have all the facts, and may not be as knowledgable about all of this as some people...however, it seems to me he's following the one thing most "managerial" government types do. That....would be...statistics. Can you imagine the price it would cost for a city like NYC to purchase these? Then have the support staff for the devices?

    If Bloomenstein can go to the public and say "We saved you this much money by not buying these cameras....blah blah blah". It just helps keep him in power longer. It doesn't matter if it would help cut down on police BS. How many times have we seen a politician roll out promises or speak of money saving plans...and gets elected on the basis that it all sounds good.


    I dunno....Am I way off base here?

     

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    Sobe (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 3:48am

    I'd also be interested to see how this would have an effect on the privacy of citizens. I've seen some cases where traffic cams have been places at intersections...the red light ones that just take a picture if triggered.

    Those camera's...after some litigation...were then disabled. So...a waste of money, because they happened to be able to take photos of someones house.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 4:51am

      Re:

      Red light cams are not the same as cop body cams.

      Imagine if the cop body cam only recorded short snippets in which the cop looks to be guilty simply because of the lighting or the circumstance.

      Privacy of citizens? ... in public? ... lol

      The red light cams are removed due to management being forced to no longer violate federal law regulating yellow time duration and this resulted in them no longer generating huge cash flow. They were not removed to protect the public privacy - that is ludicrous.

       

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        Sobe (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 5:18am

        Re: Re:

        I should probably clarify...since you brought up some good points...

        As far as red light cams not being the same as cop cams, very true. However, what I was getting at was the fact you might have a cop who, for whatever reason, might be near someones residence. What happens if a cop comes to your door, wanting to ask questions, they have the cam on.

        I'm sure there are other examples..I just can't think of any right of the bat.

        Now, I tried finding the story, but because it's an older story...right around 2004-2005, and my google search skills suck...I couldnt find the specific case.

        The particulars though, are that Virginia Beach installed some red light cameras on Holland rd...and the way they had been installed, one of them was basically taking pictures of the back of someone's house. That person sued, and as far as I know, won, because they had been disabled by the time I read the story in a local paper.

         

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        Sobe (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 5:23am

        Re: Re:

        Another instance about the privacy issue...

        This one happened oversea's in Germany when I was stationed there with the Navy. A German man was out and about with his mistress. He happened to be speeding, spped camera took his picture. Picture got him getting a blowjob from his mistress. Picture was sent to his house. Said picture then got viewed by his wife, who then divorced him and sued and blah blah blah...took him to the cleaners. He then sued the local government for invasion of privacy and won his case.

        I know that's way off topic of cop cams...but to me...a cop wearing a cam, while I'm 50/50 on the idea of it, could still present privacy issues. I'm sure the cases in which it would happen are rare, but, isn't that what most of us are against? The one time something happens, and it gets turne into the norm.

         

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    Ninja (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 4:08am

    I've seen the prices for the standard camera and they are insane to say the least. But then again the cameras seem to be well designed with reliability and security in mind. Still, the idea is awesome. The new IndieGoGo project is double the awesomeness since you could theoretically record much more with less quality (providing it is configurable). The $250 tag is damn appealing (considering the regular $900 price for the predecessor).

    I've been looking for something like that for a while. Being able to record your interactions may be useful in a myriad of occasions. Maybe I should give it a shot?

     

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    Pitabred, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 7:06am

    Public cameras

    Any business can have a security camera recording the actions of its employees, I don't see how a wearable camera like this, that is only on at the choice of the officer, is it anything unwarranted or invasive. It's not like it's a constant surveillance of everything, only what the police see. This is just a more objective observer than the officer themselves.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 7:21am

    You are insane if you want cops to wear cameras. This is all going way too far. It is eroding basic public trust in each other. Not to mention the cop is far less likely to follow his gut or instincts and rather will follow the letter of the law. You have to hire a person and trust the person you hired.

    At some point folks we need to push back. What if next instead of a camera it is a brain implant that ensures you can't break procedure. Oh it doesn't interfere with you at all, just stops you if you want to make a bad decision they will say. You laugh, but it is coming. First step is wearable. Next step is implantable.

    We have a brain between (more above lol) our ears for a reason. We don't need technology replacing it.

     

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      Matthew Cline (profile), Sep 14th, 2013 @ 5:34pm

      Re:

      It is eroding basic public trust in each other. Not to mention the cop is far less likely to follow his gut or instincts and rather will follow the letter of the law.
      The same could be said of citizens filming police.

       

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    Shon Gale, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 8:01am

    Bllomberg Lost. Another monster bites the dust.

     

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    Shon Gale, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 8:07am

    I grew up in Chicago and Los Angeles and my experience with the Police makes me avoid them and never listen to them because I have been lied to so much by them in the past. I have never met an officer who puts the public needs ahead of the police union. Read about Katrina and the New Orleans Police. They are all the same. They lie, they steal, they prey on the homeless and they cheat. Even in the small cities you hear the nightmare stories of officers raping homeless girls and being allowed to do it for over 20 years. Trust them? I think not.

     

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    crade (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 8:57am

    It's basically a chance for the cop to back up his side of the story with evidence from his own point of view.. My city does this and it makes complete sense imho. Someone takes a grainy video on a cellphone that makes it looks like the cop is doing something wrong, they whip out the bodycam video that gives another point of view, probably clearer and certainly more in line with what the cop would have experienced.
    How is it going to make them look bad?

     

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      Internet Zen Master (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 9:53am

      Re:

      You make a good point. However, on the flip-side, it also can add a whole new layer of red tape that makes it harder for all the good, respectable cops (they do exist, you just rarely hear about them because there's no reason to point out their actions) to do their jobs.

      It feels like a big case of "This is why we can't have nice things(TM), COPS Edition".

       

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        That One Guy (profile), Sep 13th, 2013 @ 7:49pm

        Re: Re:

        As I commented above, if the 'good, respectable cops' had done their job and kept their not-so-good-or-respectable fellow cops in check, then they probably wouldn't have to deal with this now.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 12:14pm

    Just imagine how much cameras on cops will save on administrative leave. Is there an issue? OK, let's download the footage, audio and gps to figure out where you were, what you said, and what you were doing.

    Seems to me you'll see less cops beating people down if there is a camera on them.

    You'd also have a hell of a lot of video evidence for getting convictions.

    Seems to me the only complaint a cop would have is that the devices can't record smells cause that's about the last thing a cop would do on their own.

    Explain to me again how this hurts the cops... Bloomberg?... Bloomberg?.... Bloomberg?! Seems to me the only thing it does is keep them from doing things like intimidation, falsifying evidence, and other illegal stuff they aren't supposed to be able to do anyway...

     

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      Doug C, Sep 15th, 2013 @ 1:40pm

      Re:

      One thing to keep in mind is that cops in many cities make money from overtime when they appear in court to testify about what was said or done in front of them. Having a video shown in court instead of having the cop testify directly is a threat to police overtime income.
      The video's of the crime/investigation would put a crimp in the "testilying" that SOME cops do on the witness stand.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Sep 13th, 2013 @ 1:43pm

    so, you cant have one of these unless you're a cop? that's victimisation!

     

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    Shon Gale (profile), Sep 20th, 2013 @ 6:14am

    Only a fool trusts a cop. They only care for other cops.

     

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