Because Body Cameras Haven't Made Cops Better, Two Law Enforcement Agencies Are Going To Start Random Inspections Of Footage

from the will-this-do,-they-inaudibly-asked dept

Body cameras were supposed to bring more transparency and accountability to law enforcement agencies. The change that was promised hasn't arrived. Body camera footage does little for the public. Every so often, it results in a successful lawsuit and/or prosecution.

What body camera footage does best is what cops do best: lock people up. Prosecutors are making the most of recordings, using them as evidence against criminal suspects.

When the idea of watching the police first started gaining traction, officials and politicians opposed to anything that might make cops more accountable claimed the recordings were nothing but a "gotcha" tactic. In their minds, someone would be reviewing all recorded footage every day, just waiting for a cop to screw up.

This was a stupid stance to take. Not only was this fantasy logistically impossible, but there's hardly anyone inside law enforcement agencies all that interested in punishing officers, even when they've screwed up. What has actually happened is the millions of hours of footage recorded every day is uploaded and forgotten about until someone needs it. It usually takes a lawsuit to get this footage released, or at least the threat of one. Defense attorneys looking for footage to defend their clients must subject themselves to a variety of third-party user agreements before they're allowed to see anything.

Since the police aren't going to police themselves -- not even with a slew of new self-policing tools -- accountability and transparency must be forced on agencies by other government entities. But this has been very slow in developing. And what we're being given can't even generously be called a half-measure.

One (ONE!) law enforcement agency in Indiana has agreed to random inspections of body camera footage. The agreement is the result of the shooting of a black man by white police officers. No footage exists of this incident, despite the fact the officer who shot the man had a cruiser equipped with a dash cam and was wearing a body camera.

The new inspection rules are incredibly lax, pretty much ensuring no South Bend cop will ever be the "victim" of this barely-there "gotcha tactic."

The new requirements call for sergeants to randomly sample at least five videos each month from officers they supervise, and to review at least 15 minutes of footage from each subordinate three or more times per year. The sergeants are to check for discrepancies between the videos and officers’ reports, and to pass positive and negative findings up the chain of command.

Wow, up to 45 minutes a YEAR! Yeah, that's going to turn things around, restore the public's trust, etc. Considering how much footage is generated on a yearly basis, the chance of randomly pulling a culpatory needle from this haystack begins to approach zero almost immediately.

This new measure -- instituted in the wake of the unrecorded shooting -- will do more to increase accountability than the random inspection policy.

Another new provision requires an officer, before stopping a recording, to speak into the device with the reason.

This won't prevent abuse but it will at least stump officers who can't come up with a legit excuse in the heat of the moment. There are lots of excuses made about how it's impossible to turn on a camera when in the middle of police stuff. Now, officers will have to come up with something believable when they decide they don't want to record an interaction. Unfortunately, it won't force officers to turn on their cameras first, which is still going to be a problem going forward.

Only one other city has announced a random inspection plan. That would be Los Angeles, home to one of the largest police forces in the nation. The local union actually agreed to this, so the inspection program has been weakened to its satisfaction. The inspection program -- first reported by the LA Times -- doesn't provide any details as to how much footage is reviewed or how often. But it does show why the union agreed to it.

Chief Michel Moore told the Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday that he reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file cops, to inspect recordings that don’t involve arrests or the use of force.

The inspections will allow supervisors to determine whether some officers need additional training or counseling to prevent instances of biased policing, Moore said. Supervisors will make sure officers aren’t rude and that they explain their actions when stopping people, he said.

This may help community relations but it won't stop excessive force deployments or ill-advised shootings. Arrests and use of force incidents are exempted from this random inspection program, which means it's not all that random and it's not all that useful.

Despite the limitations, the program has already caught one officer who engaged in an extremely depraved act while responding to a call.

A Los Angeles police officer is under investigation after a random review of body camera footage showed him fondling a dead woman’s breasts, according to a person briefed on the incident.

The Los Angeles Police Department officer and a partner had responded to a report of a body at a residence, the person said. The officer fondled the corpse’s breasts when his partner was not in the room.

The officer has not been named, which is par for the course when it comes to "accountability." The union has already expressed its displeasure with the officer's actions, which only means fondling corpses is one of the few misdeeds it won't publicly support.

The officer shut off his body camera before fondling the dead woman, but the rolling buffer engaged two minutes before the officer turned his camera back on, capturing him in mid-fondle.

These are very minimal efforts that barely deserve to be called "efforts." This is what we're being given in exchange for our tax dollars and the vast amount of power we, as a society, have entrusted law enforcement with. Sorry, chief(s), this ain't it. Do better.

Filed Under: body cameras, police, random inspections


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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 7 Jan 2020 @ 2:36pm

    Well, if there's no recorded register of something with at least 2 different cameras on the place and it only happens with that specific event among tons of others then I'd say it's more than fair to shift the burden to the cops. They had all the available means to prove their innocence. "But the equipment may fail" you say. Yes but those types of cops will have frequent equipment failures. Give them a small edge like say, 1 failure per year or something. Should be enough. If failures are frequent and widespread then sue the manufacturer.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 3:09pm

    The officer shut off his body camera before fondling the dead woman, but the rolling buffer engaged two minutes before the officer turned his camera back on, capturing him in mid-fondle.

    Turning off his camera and turning it back on mid-investigation should be grounds for suspension, even fines. He clearly wanted to hide something and, thankfully, that something was revealed anyway. That he is a sick bastard is a big enough problem but we should confront the manipulation of camera data, too.

    It's time to pass laws to force camera footage to be mandatory, complete with fines and corrective action for failing to record all activity while on a call. And to demand that all footage be readily accessible to the public (perhaps with blurring or audio redaction for the privacy of non-police recorded in said footage). Also fund a citizen board to review the footage randomly, giving the board enough teeth to ensure their findings of bad behavior are appropriately punished, even to eventual termination or imprisonment of the officers.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Jan 2020 @ 3:23pm

      Re:

      Turning off his camera and turning it back on mid-investigation should be grounds for firing.

      The odds that a cop is going to turn off a camera for good reasons may theoretically exist, but I'd say they're low enough that doing so should be seen and treated as a serious and damning action, one demonstrating that they should not be trusted and therefore employed.

      The rest of it looks mostly good, though you can be damn sure the unions would be whining like toddlers who stubbed their toes over the very idea that police might be accountable for their actions, and they couldn't just keep everything internal.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 6:14am

      Re:

      If the camera's recording, this is a weird definition of "off".

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

    • icon
      Hugo S Cunningham (profile), 9 Jan 2020 @ 7:28am

      Record everything, but allow encipherment [Was: Re:

      It's time to pass laws to force camera footage to be mandatory, complete with fines and corrective action for failing to record all activity while on a call.

      Recording should be automatic and mandatory from beginning of shift until end. If an officer considers himself on break, let him put the camera in "encipher mode." Enciphered footage could only be deciphered and viewed with a court order.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 7 Jan 2020 @ 3:38pm

    When criminals are running their own trials

    This won't prevent abuse but it will at least stump officers who can't come up with a legit excuse in the heat of the moment.

    'Legit' as determined by who is the question, because if it's other police I imagine any excuse will be considered valid.

    There are lots of excuses made about how it's impossible to turn on a camera when in the middle of police stuff.

    Which is why 'on' should be the default, perhaps with the cameras considered verification that an officer is on the clock, turned on at the start of their shift and only turned off at the end. If the camera is on, they're on the job and getting paid for it. If it's not then they aren't and aren't, and should be treated no different than anyone without a badge.

    Chief Michel Moore told the Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday that he reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file cops, to inspect recordings that don’t involve arrests or the use of force.

    The inspections will allow supervisors to determine whether some officers need additional training or counseling to prevent instances of biased policing, Moore said. Supervisors will make sure officers aren’t rude and that they explain their actions when stopping people, he said.

    Well, I'd say it's pretty obvious who's in charge of that 'relationship', and it sure as hell isn't the Board. With terms that pathetic it honestly wouldn't surprise me in the least if the union wrote the entire thing and just handed it to the Board to sign.

    If they're concerned about 'biased policing' I'd say the first places that is likely to hold evidence of is in arrests and use of force incidents, but apparently looking into those are out of bounds, and all they can be bothered with is whether or not police are rude, which is seen as much more important for some mysterious reason...

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

  • icon
    Wyrm (profile), 7 Jan 2020 @ 3:50pm

    ... to inspect recordings that don’t involve arrests or the use of force.

    Way to go. Let's inspect any video except the ones that need inspecting the most. Totally reasonable.

    ... which only means fondling corpses is one of the few misdeeds it won't publicly support.

    I imagine the scene at the police union.
    "Fondling live bodies, ok.
    Making dead bodies, ok.
    Fondling dead bodies... Sorry, even we can't defend that."

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Jan 2020 @ 4:43pm

    At least they're trying some new stuff.

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

  • identicon
    Smartassicus the Roman, 7 Jan 2020 @ 10:27pm

    Entropy

    All systems decay. ALL.

    The more time and energy put into any system the faster it decays.

    Read: Wasting time and energy on a corrupt system only makes it more corrupt.

    FTP

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Jan 2020 @ 7:43am

      Re: Entropy

      Umm... that's exactly the opposite of how it works. Time and energy is the only way to stave off decay and make it progress more slowly. Or are you saying that a carefully-built wall will crumble faster than one that was thrown together as quickly as possible?

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

  • identicon
    Concerned citizen, 7 Jan 2020 @ 10:40pm

    Just like the police always say...

    If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.

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

  • identicon
    dickeyrat, 8 Jan 2020 @ 2:41am

    The LAPD officer in question was David Rojas, a four-year veteran with the Los Angeles Police Department. He was appropriately named by KNX Newsradio and other local outlets on Tuesday 1/7/2020.

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


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