Mayor Bloomberg Loves Cameras Watching Everyone… Except His Cops

from the the-public's-best-interest-is-rarely-served-by-a-billionaire/police-chief-ta dept

One of the directives ordered by Judge Scheindlin in her decision declaring New York City’s stop and frisk program unconstitutional was to equip NYPD officers with body cameras. Mayor Bloomberg treated this suggestion derisively during his post-decision press conference apoplexy, as he sarcastically channeled the “common man’s” complaints about cop-operated cameras.

A camera on the lapel or hat of a police officer… He didn’t turn the right way. My god, he DELIBERATELY did it. It’s a solution that’s not a solution…

For a guy who really seems to love aiming cameras at civilians, Bloomberg sure isn’t much for aiming any at his “personal army.” I’m sure it galls him that his NYPD (and that’s how he thinks of it — his) might have to be subjected to extra scrutiny and accountability, like some sort of common police force in Podunksville, USA (read: anywhere other than NYC).

The thing is, the evidence (what exists of it) shows body cameras are a net gain, both for cops and civilians. As Hephaestus pointed out in his comment on another cops-and-cameras story, Rialto’s (CA) police department saw significant improvements in a couple of problem areas as a result of department-issued body cams.

When cops in a Rialto, California were forced to wear cameras, their use of force dropped by over two-thirds. Additionally, the officers who were not made to wear the cameras used force twice as much as those who did. This strongly suggests the majority of the time police use force is unnecessary. In other words, the majority of the time these officers used force they were simply committing acts of violence which they don’t feel comfortable committing if it’s captured on film…

The Rialto study began in February 2012 and will run until this July. The results from the first 12 months are striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.

A better behaved police force is a more effective police force, one that’s not bogged down in departmental paperwork, internal investigations and court battles that the deployment of excessive force tends to bring with it.

Out in Florida, police departments are seeing similar results.

Officer Rininger says one of the goals of using these [cameras] is to hold cops more accountable, and keep them from crossing the line.

“You have the video actually from the time of the incident and not just the officer’s hearsay,” says Officer Rininger. “Officers who are equipped with cameras, their use of forces are lower.”

The statistics back that up. According to a new study by Cambridge University, agencies who used these cameras cut their excessive force complaints in half over the course of a year.

But it’s not just cops being better behaved. Police officers using these cameras have discovered the citizens they interact with are also better behaved.

“They are great tools for not only recording what you would expect, but they also seem to have great impact in ensuring civility during police interactions,” said John DeCarlo, a University of New Haven associate professor of criminal justice and former Branford police chief.

Hamden Police Chief Thomas Wydra said law enforcement agencies using the technology across the country have seen improvement in the behavior of both parties, police and public.

“People behave more professionally, and they simply are more professional with each other,” Wydra said.

No cop wants to show up at a call and have to deal with nothing but assholes. Likewise for civilians. With a camera recording everything being said, the dialog tends to be lower key. Every encounter has a chance to be part of someone’s (cop or member of the public) permanent record, so to speak. Being an asshole may not be a crime, but it’s seldom helpful when one party insists on being antagonistic.

The presence of a body camera also levels the playing field somewhat, especially for cops who still are uncomfortable with citizens recording their actions. With every citizen carrying a cell phone, a cop’s body camera puts a second set of “eyes” on the situation.

[I]n a world where 90 percent of adults have a recording device in their pocket — a cellphone or smartphone — perceptions are changing.

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.

Mesa, AZ’s police department has experienced a similar drop in uses of excessive force and citizen complaints.

The Mesa Police Department is currently in the eighth month of its own year-long trial program with body cameras. Sergeant Tony Landato said the cameras “really have been an assist.” He added that “obviously we have mixed emotions among some of our members, there are people who don’t want that 24-hour scrutiny. But overall it’s been a very positive thing.”

Taser International, the company that manufactures the eponymous stun gun, also makes body-worn cameras. Steve Tuttle, a Taser vice president, said the cameras can be a hard sell — until police officers discover the video can be used to back them up. And then, Tuttle mirrored Sergeant Landato’s experience. “Once they’ve had a complaint, and realize ‘Oh my gosh, there is a video of this,’ that changes their feelings very quickly.” Tuttle said the cameras reduced complaints against police by “a dramatic number.”

With all these positives comes the negative aspects. Obviously, there’s a privacy concern. Collected video can be considered a public record, but interactions with people inside their homes or places of business might still be subject to an expectation of privacy. There’s also a concern about stored footage of people who happen to be at the scene but are not involved with the criminal activity or interaction being recorded.

Sergeant Robert Drager is the technical manager of the body camera program in Albuquerque. He says once you’re crossed the logistical hurdles of the program — is the camera recording? is the battery going to last longer than an hour? — officers still have to deal with the massive amounts of data produced by the videos. An example: Drager says that in Albuquerque, in four months just 70 police officers have recorded 30,000 videos. And there’s more.

“Officers a lot of times are seeing people on the worst day of their lives, and we’re capturing that on video that’s now a public record,” he said. “We’re in the process of trying to create an entire unit to deal with all the media requests and public records requests.”

Another concern is that cop-controlled cameras will be abused in order to cover up wrongdoing. To that end, most camera systems have built-in safeguards to minimize any post-recording manipulation or gaps in coverage.

Rialto’s camera system attacks this problem by running a constant 30-second “pre-event” buffer. This way the event that prompts the officer to turn on the camera is more likely to be caught on tape. This won’t do much for officers who leave their cameras off, but its assumed that video reviews of the day’s events will expose any glaring gaps or omissions.

Branford, CT’s system auto-uploads all footage into cloud storage maintained by Amazon the moment the camera hits the charger. Bellvue, NE’s system prevents video editing on the camera itself and uses a proprietary cord to download the video from the camera.

None of these systems are completely immune to abuse, but as the systems become more common, improvements in these areas will follow.

Even with limited evidence, Bloomberg’s resistance to outfitting the NYPD with body cameras feels more like an authoritarian kneejerk reaction than one borne out of any serious thought. (Much like most of the press conference…) He and Ray Kelly’s love for CCTV is similarly wrongheaded. The full report on Rialto’s body camera experiment points out the limitations of surveillance cameras in terms of reducing certain kinds of criminal activity.

CCTV cameras were found to be weak behavior modifiers not because of a flaw in the self-awareness paradigm or the deterrence theory. Rather, the level of certainty of being apprehended necessary for the self-awareness mechanism, which would lead to socially-desirable behavior, is not high enough in CCTV. If cameras are expected to influence behavior and to serve as cues that social norms or legal rules must be followed, then the cue “dosage” of awareness must be intense. Mobile cameras are likely to have this effect.

Whoever ends up running the city will be faced with the possibility of outfitting the NYPD with body cameras. Let’s hope it’s someone who recognizes that the benefits to both the police department and the public will far outweigh any potential downsides. With Kelly possibly leaving his post as well, the new mayor may have an easier time implementing this should the NYPD’s appeal of the decision fail. New Yorkers should hope this is done sooner rather than later as this tactic, more than any other order issued by the judge, has the greatest possibility of improving the NYPD’s civil rights record.

Filed Under: , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Mayor Bloomberg Loves Cameras Watching Everyone… Except His Cops”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
39 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

I’m interested in how these devises work. Are them always on during the shift or the cop has to turn them on? If they are always-on can the cop turn them off (like the dash cam episodes where the cop deliberately turned them off)?

Still, this is the type of “surveillance” that’s done right and respects the privacy of people outside any interaction with law enforcement (ie: daily, ordinary life). And it adds a layer of accountability for the bad cops, no? Obviously Bloomberg doesn’t like it. This way his personal army can’t keep harassing minorities for his own delight.

Anonymous Howard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I read in the article that the cops have to turn it on before responding to a call, which seems a good solution.

Between calls, they can charge the cam and upload the videos in the car.

Using the camera should be mandatory, and cops who respond to calls but missing the corresponding recording should be severely sanctioned.
Credit should be on the civilian’s side in this cases, since the cop had the opportunity to provide video evidence of the encounter, but choose not to.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A suggestion I’ve made before to provide ‘incentive’ for officers to turn on the camera, would be to assume that the suspect/civilian is telling the truth, and the officer lying, in any situation where the officer could have turned on the camera but didn’t for whatever reason.

Could people start making wild accusations against the police to take advantage of this sort of thing? Sure, but an accusation of wrongdoing by a civilian is liable to get an officer, at most, fined/put on paid leave while the charge is investigated, while a wrongful accusation by a police officer has the possibility of getting someone thrown in jail, so it’s very much in the public’s best interest for the police to have every reason to want video evidence to back up the claims being made.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Question is: the cop stops someone randomly and never registers the encounter. There are cases where police have taken suspects to abandoned places and executed them (sure most cases are criminals that the justice refuses to keep jailed due to their own deficiency but that’s just acting like a militia). I’m talking about my country.

I think that the only way to truly avoid issues would be the always on requirement. But then again the cops too deserve their privacy. I suppose your solution is the best possible.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

But then again the cops too deserve their privacy.

On the job? Do they?

In my workplace, I was specifically informed that I have no expectation of privacy except in the bathroom. Every room has cameras, every computer (except my dev box, for technical reasons) and phone is subject to monitoring. Why should the police have any greater privacy in their workplace?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

I do during lunch breaks, unless I leave the building. For police bathroom breaks, can they not just remove the camera?

I don’t personally think that always-on is a desirable solution, though. I think a better solution is a procedural one, as a commenter said elsewhere — if the camera isn’t on, then any police claims come under, at a minimum, a great deal more scrutiny and skepticism in court.

PaulT (profile) says:

80s sci-fi movies seem to be getting more and more true, don’t they? I’m thinking of the scene in Robocop where Clarence Boddicker is told he’s an idiot for talking to Robocop because his memory’s admissible as evidence…

What a shame some people on both sides of law enforcement need such surveillance to keep on the right side of the law, though.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

Tim Cushing leaves a very important factor out of his article. If police officers would stop being antagonistic against people who film them in public then maybe the public would start to be more grateful to these officers.

Here in Flint Michigan, our police officers are actually very respectful of the residents in our city. I’m sure there are real jerks with cameras who really are acting like jerks but that road goes both ways. Police officers need to act professionally and actually thank citizens for being out there, keeping these officers honest.

When I see a police officer acting like a thug, it just tells me that the officer acting in such a way is corrupt and up to no good.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There are still police in Flint??? I kid, I kid.

The police were pretty scarce in Pontiac for a few years until Oakland County Sheriff’s Dept. took over. And even then, the Pontiac PD did the best they could facing all the cutbacks they did. I want to say over half the force was laid off before they got absorbed into the Sheriff’s Dept. Still, they were professional. I don’t recall any scandals involving any of the police.

The Detroit Police Department, however is another story. Just last month 2 police sergeants (1 from the burbs and 1 from the D)were caught on camera robbing and assaulting people at a gas station. If it weren’t for the footage, they never would have gotten caught.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is advisable to also perform random drug testing upon the officers. It would not be surprising to find steroids are commonly used and this could explain many instances of ridiculously violent reactions to non confrontational interactions. Is it really necessary to berate stop and frisk subjects with tirades of four letter words? What exactly does this accomplish?

Anonymous Coward says:

The thing that gets me with the cop videos is that not every one of these show the cop in a bad light.

I remember one video that was posted on here a while ago where a cop was surrounded by people yelling at him while he was arresting a woman that as disrespectful at best, and actually hits the cop in the video that prompts the arrest… and the guy taking the video can be clearly heard saying she didn’t hit him.

That one cop needed a commendation. Being surrounded alone with that many screaming people a lesser man would have lost his shit.

For a cop where the work you do needs to be done with snap decisions on a daily basis you need that reality check to keep your head screwed on straight. I can see where that job would just eat away at your morals… then cops rarely get properly punished so they keep up the bad behavior.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I can see where that job would just eat away at your morals.

This is where I have huge sympathy for cops. When you deal with awful people all day every day, you will tend to start seeing all people as awful. Also, when you’re around a certain type of person a lot, you start behaving like they do.

This is a big reason why cops need more oversight than most people.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Oh Please, let the Feds in on this

Maybe we could get the FBI to like, you know, use tape recorders, let alone cameras. Then we would not have their “Well, this is what I wanted them to say” personal shorthand note taking, that would not need to be…umm…abused…err…learned…err…questioned.

I mean, what’s their problem? They get to use what the NSA is recording. Do they have a problems with being the actual recordist (see, I can make up job titles too)?

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

To be honest about it, I find most of these incidents of citizens filming these police officers to be nothing more than morons in the first place.

I always seem to notice that these idiot people filming these cops are the ones looking to instigate a confrontation for no better than reason than to provide a deliberate nuisance factor to the police.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Most of these incidents?
Possibly you meant to say “most of the incidents I am aware of”.

So now that you have belittled the act of filming police in general … what do you have to say about the “few” incidences where grossly inappropriate police behavior was recorded for all to see?

Yes, I suppose the world is full of morons and they can be found in every occupation. Ok. I suppose you enjoy it when idiot cop mets idiot protester.

EverNewEcoN (user link) says:

Economics, Public Health Grounded, And Aware of Pre-Textual Monopoly, Welcome Concomitant Adversity, And Privatization

Citations Used By
Judge Shira A. Scheindlin
(Stop And Frisk:)

Courts can take no better measure
to assure that laws will be just than to
require that laws be equal in operation. ?
Railway Express Agency v. People of State of New York,
336 U.S.106, 112?13 (1949) (Jackson, J., concurring)

It is simply fantastic to urge that
[a frisk] performed in public by a policeman
while the citizen stands helpless, perhaps
facing a wall with his hands raised,
is a ?petty indignity.? ?
Terry v. Ohio,
392 U.S. 1, 16?17 (1968)

Whether you stand still or move,
drive above, below, or at the speed limit,
you will be described by the police as
acting suspiciously should they wish
to stop or arrest you. Such subjective,
promiscuous appeals to an ineffable
intuition should not be credited.
? United States v. Broomfield,
417 F.3d 654, 655 (7th Cir. 2005) (Posner, J.)

From Operation Ghetto Storm
http://www.operationghettostorm.org/uploads/1/9/1/1/19110795/operation_ghetto_storm.pdf
(note is a pdf)

http://goo.gl/9UUsNw
(Stop and Frisk Videos, Leading Result
The Most Viral)

https://duckduckgo.com/?q=definition+of+ethnic+cleansing
Definition of Ethnic Cleansing

http://pages.citebite.com/m1r9w7x9t3xmh
Words Of a Famous Holocaust Survivor:
“It so happens that killing a man is not
the greatest evil that one can do that man.
The Nazis were specialists, not only in murder
and physical torture,
but also in man’s degradation and debasement,
in the extermination of his hope,
his attachment to life and his faculty of reasoning.”

Unrelenting Fear And Insult

http://wonkette.com/524227/hero-new-york-cops-disciplined-just-for-stopping-and-frisking-60-year-old-black-police-chief-who-had-id-around-his-neck

Imposed
On A Youth Can Highly Predictably
Result In A Reaction Leading To A
Trayvon–Style Result,

http://www.multiurl.com/ga/Why_The_Next_Trayvon_Is_Easily_Possibly_You

Regardless
Of The Youth’s Violation Of Rights.
Lynchings, I Think, Can Come About
In Varied Circumstances, And Exist
In Varied Dressings.
It’s The Offensive Actors First
Arriving On The Scene Who Come With
A Past Of Fear, Hate And Personal
Hurts, And It’s They Who Need Not
Policing, But Caring Assistance.

Opposite The Hate, Anger, Fear
And Compulsion To Debase

http://blogsensebybarb.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/statue_of_liberty_with_extract_of_poem_by_emma_lazarus_fixed.jpeg

Mike Raffety (profile) says:

Compare with cameras in police cars?

Aren’t cameras in police cars pretty much considered universally standard in the U.S. now? Do NYC police cars have them? What was their experience with that?

This seems remarkably similar, and police car cameras are widely seen as a “good thing” now.

Google isn’t getting me a direct answer, but way back in 2000, the state of New York said it was going to help municipalities get police car cameras installed.

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/12/02/nyregion/cameras-are-backed-in-local-police-cars.html

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m going to call you out on something here.

You hint at, but don’t explicitly point out a correlation that is quite glaring.

You mention that use of force decreases and take that to mean that cops are less likely to use force because they know they’re being recorded, but just a couple of paragraphs later, you talk about the fact that the civilians they’re interacting with are more likely to be civil, which I would contend means that force is less likely to be needed.

Further, you talk about the reduction in complaints, and imply that this means that cops are less likely to act in a manner which causes complaints, but there HAS to be at least a few complaints that were never filed because they were false complaints and the complainant knew there was video evidence.

Look, I’m not trying to pretend there aren’t bad cops out there, there are, I know there are. I’m not trying to say that cops shouldn’t be held to a higher standard, I absolutely believe that they should.

I will say, however, that the constant anti-cop bias on techdirt drives me insane, and as much as I like the news and views from the majority of your articles, every once in a while the proliferation of anti-cop stories has my cursor hovering over the unsubscribe button.

My whole argument boils down to this: While there are bad cops, there are WAY more good cops out there. The way this site presents the issues, it paints them all with a broad brush of contempt.

Disclaimer: I am not a cop, I’ve never wanted to be a cop (Well, maybe when I was 7.). I am however a paramedic, I suppose you could call me cop adjacent. I get to see them both while they’re performing their duties and while they’re in down-time as a neutral observer. I get to see them as people, not just cops.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think that the article made the same points you did here. However, I did want to address this:

My whole argument boils down to this: While there are bad cops, there are WAY more good cops out there.

Two points. First, it depends on what you count as “good cops”. I think that a cop who performs flawlessly and conscientiously, but fails to raise complaints about cops who are bad actors (or, worse, defends them), counts as a “bad cop”. In that view, I think that most cops are, in fact, bad cops. If most were good cops, then every time a misbehaving cop is found out, we should also be hearing a chorus of cops condemning him. But we never actually hear that. Instead, we hear them excusing or minimizing the behavior of the misbehaving cop.

Second, even if only 1% of cops are bad actors, that means that we the public must treat all cops as suspicious. Cops have a lot of power, and they don’t wear signs letting us know who the bad ones are. As a matter of personal safety, we must treat them all with suspicion.

This problem with the reputation of cops is, frustratingly, really easy for the cops themselves to solve, and yet they go out of their way to avoid doing so.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

My whole argument boils down to this: While there are bad cops, there are WAY more good cops out there.

As John notes above, this is undoubtedly true, however the problem comes when you have the good cops providing cover, whether through ‘selective’ memory, silence, of flat out lying, when dealing with the actions of the bad cops.

While strictly speaking it’s only the bad cops that are enemies to the public, when the people who should be dealing with them and providing checks to their abuses are willing to look the other way, they are all just as guilty, and just a great a threat to the public.

Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You hint at, but don’t explicitly point out a correlation that is quite glaring.

You mention that use of force decreases and take that to mean that cops are less likely to use force because they know they’re being recorded, but just a couple of paragraphs later, you talk about the fact that the civilians they’re interacting with are more likely to be civil, which I would contend means that force is less likely to be needed.

Further, you talk about the reduction in complaints, and imply that this means that cops are less likely to act in a manner which causes complaints, but there HAS to be at least a few complaints that were never filed because they were false complaints and the complainant knew there was video evidence.

I think that’s all addressed in the post. I made it clear there were benefits for both cops and civilians. I’m not sure how you feel it was insufficiently addressed, unless the slant of the article just wasn’t “pro-cop” enough.

From the article–

My words:

No cop wants to show up at a call and have to deal with nothing but assholes. Likewise for civilians. With a camera recording everything being said, the dialog tends to be lower key. Every encounter has a chance to be part of someone’s (cop or member of the public) permanent record, so to speak. Being an asshole may not be a crime, but it’s seldom helpful when one party insists on being antagonistic.

Quote from another source:

… Steve Tuttle, a Taser vice president, said the cameras can be a hard sell ? until police officers discover the video can be used to back them up. And then, Tuttle mirrored Sergeant Landato’s experience. “Once they’ve had a complaint, and realize ‘Oh my gosh, there is a video of this,’ that changes their feelings very quickly.” Tuttle said the cameras reduced complaints against police by “a dramatic number.”

With the exception of bashing the NYPD and its self-appointed general (something I will continue to do until there’s some significant improvement), I think the entire article is rather balanced.

As for my anti-cop bias… my personal take is that law enforcement agencies have to hire from the human race just like any other employer. The problem is that these fallible humans are given huge amounts of power with little oversight. This is problematic.

As commenters have already pointed out, a lot of this misconduct and abuse of power goes unnoticed and worse, is often covered up or “punished” with the lightest tap on the wrist. Good cops covering for bad cops makes everyone culpable.

Too many anti-cop stories can be wearing, I’m sure. Like any other subject, it ebbs and flows. If I wrote up everything I come across, you’d have probably unsubscribed long ago.

Over the years, I’ve had friends that were (and still are) cops who were genuinely good people who I imagined took that attitude into their day-to-day business. Another area I attack frequently is schools and school administration, this despite the fact my sister is a teacher (and also a damn good person). It’s not that I don’t believe there are plenty of good cops. It’s just that I don’t think any bad cop has earned a pass on bad behavior just because he or she rubs elbows with good cops.

Until there’s more routine expulsion of bad cops from the system, these stories will likely continue. Right now, it seems there isn’t much of a deterrent to bad behavior, at least not in terms of disciplinary action. Putting cameras on cops makes bad cops better cops. Good cops have nothing to fear from this and everything to gain, as it makes asshole citizens a little more civil.

Not sure if all of this addresses your specific complaints but hopefully, it explains a little about my motives and mindset.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Street cameras should be public access.

The other half of this equation is that all these recorded events should be accessible to someone adversarial to the DoJ.

I’m not sure if lapel cameras should be public access, but they should be readily available to any defense lawyer.

Footage left in the hands of cops seems to ultimately avail itself only when it serves the best interests of the officer or the precinct, not the best interests of the public.

Elois Clayton says:

Cameras OR More!

Camaras are workable as well, but CPAC(of Chicago), has the BEST solution for EVERY state!
A LAW, should be passed to prosecute a cop who is seen doing wrong/committing a crime, for those cameras, are operated just like cameras in institutions; Ex: They turn them on and off, when it is convenient for “them”.
CPAC solution, leaves NO rocks to turn which is a huge problem with these half-cocked laws that are being lobbied by lobbyists!

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...
Loading...