If Police Officials Won't Hold Officers Accountable, More Cameras Will Never Mean More Recordings

from the more-$$$-spent,-but-nothing-changes dept

Cameras have been referred to as "unblinking eyes." When operated by law enforcement, however, they're eyes that never open.

Dash cams were supposed to provide better documentation of traffic stops and other interactions. So were lapel microphones, which gave the images a soundtrack. Officers who weren't interested in having stops documented switched off cameras, "forgot" to turn them back on, or flat out sabotaged the equipment.

Body cameras were the next step in documentation, ensuring that footage wasn't limited solely to what was in front of a police cruiser. Cautiously heralded as a step forward in accountability, body cameras have proven to be just as "unreliable" as dash cams. While some footage is being obtained that previously wouldn't have been available, the fact that officers still control the on/off switch means footage routinely goes missing during controversial interactions with the public.

The on/off switch problem could be tempered with strict disciplinary policies for officers who fail to record critical footage. Or any disciplinary procedures, actually.

Chicago, Dallas, Denver, New Orleans, New York, Oakland and San Diego are among the cities that don't specify penalties when officers fail to record, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law.

Body cameras aren't just for big cities anymore, which means countless smaller towns are just as lax when it comes to ensuring body cameras are rolling during stops and arrests.

Samuel Walker, a retired criminal justice professor, notes the problem isn't just limited to body cameras. It's any camera an officer controls.

[Walker] pointed to a study that showed across-the-board low compliance rates of officers in one high-crime Phoenix neighborhood between April 2013 and May 2014, the most recent information available. Officers only recorded 6.5 percent of traffic stops even though the department's policy required cameras to be activated "as soon as it is safe and practical," according to the study, conducted by Arizona State University's Center for Violence Prevention and Community Safety.

With body cameras, the default mode of operations for police officers was supposed to be "always on," with a few exceptions for privacy concerns. Instead, the default mode appears to be "only when an officer feels like it."

The Alameda County Sheriff's Department changed its body-camera policy following a highly publicized incident last November where two deputies were caught on surveillance video using their batons to beat a car theft suspect in the middle of a street in San Francisco's Mission District.

Eleven officers in all responded and 10 failed to turn on their body cameras. The one who did activate his did so by accident.

The problem is endemic. Law enforcement agencies have long felt no one should need more evidence than an officer's word and, for far longer than that, have felt that deployments of force shouldn't be second-guessed by outsiders. Recorded footage far too often runs counter to police reports and official narratives. The problem that needs to be fixed, apparently, is the recording devices.

During a six-month trial run for body cameras in the Denver Police Department, only about one out of every four use-of-force incidents involving officers was recorded.

Cases where officers punched people, used pepper spray or Tasers, or struck people with batons were not recorded because officers failed to turn on cameras, technical malfunctions occurred or because the cameras were not distributed to enough people, according to a report released Tuesday by Denver’s independent monitor Nick Mitchell.

What happens when disciplinary procedures are in place for failing to activate cameras? For one, compliance with camera policies goes way up.

According to data from the Oakland Police Department, of the 504 use of force incidents last year, 24 were not captured on camera. That puts the department a 95 percent success rate of recording use of force incidents.

The other thing that happens is better quality policing.

The Oakland Police Department has seen a 66 percent decrease in use of force incidents since the department started issuing body cameras to all of its officers in 2011.

Agencies that aren't willing to hold officers accountable aren't just (often literally) hurting the public they serve. They're also hurting themselves. They may not care what the public thinks when spokespeople deliver the news that all nine dash cams coincidentally malfunctioned during the beating of an arrestee, but they've also got legislators to answer to -- many of whom are tiring of dumping public funds into lawsuit settlement sinkholes.


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 11:22pm

    "No need to record us, we've got our own cameras. No really, STOP RECORDING."

    Meanwhile the public and private cameras out of police custody will continue to record things that the police would really rather not be recorded, leaving police to scramble about stealing phones, unplugging cameras and 'borrowing' tapes, for 'evidence preservation' purposes.

    If, as is clearly the case, the police have little to no interest in recording their own actions any time it might be 'inconvenient' to have a recording the public will just have to continue to fill in the gaps, much to the consternation of the camera shy police.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:00am

      Re: "No need to record us, we've got our own cameras. No really, STOP RECORDING."

      ... and they call this "law and order".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ryunosuke (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 12:15am

    it makes more sense

    they need illegal seizures and illegal red light cameras to fund the lawsuits from illegally not turning on their cameras from recording potentially illegal activities.


    in short, this could all be avoided IF THEY DID THEIR FUCKING JOBS! But I guess that is too much to ask, is it not?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 2:28am

      Re: it makes more sense

      The question I would have is what are they being taught these days?

      This corruption had to start somewhere for it to be so epidemic. Are the police being trained to treat people like they have no rights or is it something else that has corrupted so many.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:02am

      Re: it makes more sense

      they need illegal seizures and illegal red light cameras to fund the lawsuits from illegally killing, assaulting, stealing, the rap sheet continues.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Chuck, 11 Aug 2016 @ 1:17am

    When a police officer's choice is between being reprimanded for not turning on a camera or being (possibly) jailed for beating or killing a perp, the reason for camera malfunctions becomes clear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 11 Aug 2016 @ 2:17am

      Re:

      Reprimanded? We are not there yet.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 2:43am

        Re: Re:

        Reprimands? That seems a bit harsh. They were just doing their job, where they can enforce laws without knowing them or how they think/imagine they read and apply, take ownership of your property for no reason, because it apparently committed a crime all on its own, and generally be obnoxious and pissy because you don't immediately fall on the ground with your wrist extended so they can handcuff you as soon as they look at you.

        On the point of the article, though, maybe not more recordings, but definitely more deletions!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:03am

        Re: Re:

        They get paid vacations

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Whatever, 11 Aug 2016 @ 1:58am

    I warned you, Techdirties. Your attempts to harass law enforcers and put them under the microscope could only go so far. When push comes to shove it's still the law against you pirate sympathizers. I know Masnick is going to censor my comment for 24 hours because he can't stand it when the police are allowed to do their jobs. Mmmmm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 11 Aug 2016 @ 2:16am

      Re:

      Whatever.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Padpaw (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 2:29am

      Re:

      You better pray you will always be a useful stooge as the first thing that happens when a sycophant stops being useful is they are killed off.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:35am

      "When push comes to shove"

      Is your gang going to beat our gang up, Whatever?

      Are you saying your heroes can beat up our heroes?

      Even you can do better. C'mon!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 8:09am

      Re:

      "I know Masnick is going to censor my comment for 24 hours because he can't stand it when the police are allowed to do their jobs." based on timestamps you were censored for more than an hour, because people could view and respond.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 8:18am

      Re:

      Your attempts to harass law enforcers and put them under the microscope could only go so far.

      You say that like somehow OUR cameras are going to turn off...funny how you equate being held accountable with harassment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 8:21am

      Re:

      horse with no name just hates it when due process is enforced.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 2:25am

    the only thing that will be able to hold dirty cops accountable are citizens that get fed up and decide to take out the trash themselves after seeing the justice system refuse to purge itself of the criminals in their ranks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TRX (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 5:17am

    How about a few new department policies?

    a) the officer's testimony is always discarded if he has no supporting video

    b) if there's not a complete video record of his workday, he doesn't get paid for that day

    c) all video footage goes to a publicly-accessible server immediately after each shift

    What is it they like to say? Oh, right. "If you're not doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to worry about."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 7:02am

      Re: Policies

      Any charges laid against an officer as a result of their actions after a camera has been disabled should be considered premeditated.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:29am

    "Law enforcement agencies have long felt no one should need more evidence than an officer's word"

    Yeah, at this point they've demonstrated how much they like to abuse that privilege. Not only do they commonly lie (at the stand, no less) but cannot even be trusted with their own monitoring.

    At some time in the past, a forgotten camera might have been an honest mistake. Now, it's evident that any camera negligence is willful and malicious. We can also assume that any edit by law enforcement is censorship of officer wrongdoing, is not for protection of the people but protection of the precinct.

    That also goes for any good faith exception used by a police officer to circumvent forth amendment protections. Law enforcement agents don't ...can't act in good faith. Benefit of doubt for law enforcement is a benefit of doubt against the people, and against the state.

    And any judge that gives them that benefit of doubt is complicit in their misfeasance (or in the case of failing to turn on a camera, nonfeasance.)

    Law enforcement has come to regard the people as enemies, and have made themselves enemies of the people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 7:53am

      Re: "Law enforcement agencies have long felt no one should need more evidence than an officer's word"

      An officer's word is no more valid or trust worthy than a crack whore's.

      The mere fact that a person works for the government IS the reason they cannot be trusted.

      Our downfall started the moment people decided any member of government could be trusted! Distrust is the ONLY way to keep them honest!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 7:58am

        Re: Re: "Law enforcement agencies have long felt no one should need more evidence than an officer's word"

        Yes, the left will never understand that a big government is a government to be feared. Well, they will come to understand it when it finally happens here.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 13 Aug 2016 @ 2:21am

          The problem with doing away with "big government"

          The consequence of small government is small, primitive nations. If you like the benefits of infrastructure, e.g. drinkable water,safe food, maintained roads and electricity, then you like the benefits of big government.

          But corruption and purpose drift are not inevitable outcomes. We just have to find means to correct when they occur. This begins with not pretending the legal system is infallible

          The problem with law enforcement is that we believed they were adequately overseen and regulated. It is only with the prevalence of personal cameras that we're seeing how wrong that presumption was. But plenty of people still don't look or still like to pretend those are exceptions to the rule.

          We're getting to the point where apathy to public demands for redress are going to result in violent reprisal. Much like the anti-vac crowd who had to suffer measles outbreaks before they realized the consequences of their delusions.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 7:40am

    Cameras take away the LEOs ability to punish the alleged perp without due process. Due process just mucks everything up. Imagine how much time and money will be saved when we just give LEOs judge and jury roles as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 7:54am

    Not holding officials accountable runs to the top

    If Obama won't hold Hillary accountable for a private email server, if nobody cares that her foundation took in many millions of $ while she was in the State department, if nobody cares that her foundation was setup solely for the Clinton Library and all other funds taken in and spent on anything but is illegal, if nobody cares that the IRS targeted conservatives then really, who is ever going to be held accountable. The current administration is pardoning itself and anyone related to it so why would low level officials worry about prosecution?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DNY (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 8:33am

    Police Official or Legislators?

    A solution to this problem is within reach of every legislative body in the country:

    Pass laws providing that with the exception of undercover operations undertaken with explicit court approval, police officers lose their police powers if their recording devices are not on. Any unrecorded arrest is invalid and the "perp" walks, any ticket issued without the recording device recording the transaction is invalid and need not be paid, any violent treatment of a suspect that might have been justifiable as a police action, if unrecorded, is treated the same as if it had been done by an ordinary citizen. Under such a regime, the attitude of police officials is irrelevant, officers themselves would shape up instantly, to the point of zealously making sure their recording devices are well-maintained and fully functional.

    The question is, does any legislature have the will to take this route?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 8:37am

      Re: Police Official or Legislators?

      See my comment directly above yours, the legislators do not hold themselves accountable, why would the police be held accountable? The top cop, Dir. of the FBI, listed all the reasons Hillary should be prosecuted and then said she shouldn't be prosecuted.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 9:36am

    "Shoot" is a Multiordinal Term

    "Agencies that aren't willing to hold officers accountable" place the lives of all police at risk from the inexactly known but obviously non-zero number of emotionally strained individuals who own firearms.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mike Shore (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 10:46am

    Make body cam usage required

    Too bad cops can't get their guns to malfunction as often as their body cams. They should be docked pay equivalent to the time their body cams are unable to record video. After all, if there is no evidence, how does anyone know they were actually doing their job?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 12 Aug 2016 @ 3:32pm

    In Russia

    In Russia, everyone has dashboard cameras in their cars to protect themselves. Perhaps it's time in the US for everyone to wear their own body cameras.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Lesath, 13 Aug 2016 @ 7:10pm

    "Recorded footage far too often runs counter to police reports and official narratives."

    Yeah, those damn lyin' cameras!
    /s

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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