DOJ Says Body Camera-Wearing Cops Aren't Allowed To Partner Up With Federal Agencies
from the cameras-are-cool-and-all,-but-not-really-our-thing,-thx dept
As we’ve covered before, the DOJ supports the idea of body cameras for local law enforcement agencies. It has set aside over $20 million a year in funding to help these agencies out. But it has no love for body cameras within its own agencies. There are no body cam requirements in place for FBI, DEA, ATF or the US Marshals Service.
In fact, if you’re a member of a law enforcement agency which does have mandated body cams, you’re no longer welcome to play in the big boys. (Subscription required. For everyone else, here’s a way to get around the Wall Street Journal’s pay sieve.)
[T]he department is telling some of its agents they cannot work with officers using such cameras as part of joint task forces, according to people familiar with the discussions.
At a meeting of Marshals supervisors several weeks ago in Colorado, Assistant Director Derrick Driscoll announced that the agency wouldn’t allow any local law-enforcement officers wearing body cameras to serve on Marshals task forces, according to several people who attended the meeting.
Do as we say, not as we do? The DOJ has an excuse for that. Currently, it has no guidelines in place for the use of body cameras. It wants other law enforcement agencies to get right on that, but seems to be in no particular hurry to equip its own personnel, much less even move towards getting the process underway.
A Justice Department spokesman said the agency “is looking into this issue and has been consulting with the law enforcement components” within the department.
I would imagine its “components” would rather not have additional accountability pinned to their chests, but it’s not as though the DOJ hasn’t had several months to carry out its “consulting.” It can’t stay abreast of small law enforcement agencies in terms of body cameras despite its access to far more money and power.
The only conceivable reason for this stasis is a lack of desire to move in the direction of additional accountability. More evidence of this reluctance can be found in nonsensical statements made to the Wall Street Journal.
Jon Adler, president of the nonprofit Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, said there are good reasons to keep parts of the Marshals’ work out of the public eye. Witnesses and informants could be inadvertently exposed, he said, and fugitives could learn the Marshals’ tactics and how to evade them.
Ah, the old “expose police methods” excuse. Wonderful. This has been used to keep everything from Stingray surveillance to police department budgets secret. The manhunters would become the hunted… or at least the easily-evaded if body cameras were activated during the apprehension of a suspect. Secret methods like physical force, lots of shouting and handcuffs would be exposed by body camera footage. Adler’s a bit more on point when discussing witnesses and informants, but even so, video can still be “redacted.” That technology has been with up since the debut of COPS over 25 years ago.
Adler’s next contention is even worse.
“The Marshals hunt down and apprehend the most despicable and violent people. When you engage in that type of mission, it wasn’t intended to be pretty and it won’t be pretty,” Mr. Adler said. “We don’t want the great work the Marshals Service does to devolve into bad reality TV or a sequence of bad YouTube videos.
Blame the media/internet indirectly. Because incidents are far more nuanced (supposedly) than the average YouTube viewer could possibly comprehend, let’s just keep the Marshals camera-free. This sounds suspiciously like FBI Director James Comey’s “Ferguson Effect” copsplaining. The fact that cameras exist makes it harder for police officers to do their job, what with the dangers posed by outside observation.
If local agencies are sporting body cams, so can the feds. There’s no reason they should be excepted from this tool of accountability. If anything, the DOJ should be leading by example, rather than saying they’re only a good idea for everyone else.