from the recorded-into-compliance dept
The Los Angeles Police Department is going to be compiling some pretty graphic footage in the near future, thanks to Taser International.
Los Angeles police on Tuesday ordered Tasers that, when used, automatically activate cameras on officers' uniforms, which will create visual records of incidents at a time of mounting concern about excessive force by U.S. law enforcement officers.This is the functional synergy of buying your "less lethal" weapons and body cameras from the same company. A Bluetooth connection between the two engages the camera once the Taser's safety is disengaged. This should provide a fairly decent record of incidents involving this particular form of force, while simultaneously addressing fears that officers might forget to engage the camera during heated situations or lose valuable seconds turning them on manually.
The 3,000 new digital Taser X26P weapons record the date, time and duration of firing, and whether Taser wires actually strike suspects and how long the thousands of volts of electricity pulse through them.
That the device will also record key data about the Taser itself is also encouraging. Even if the camera angle is less than helpful, the captured metrics should give overseers a pretty good idea whether the use of force traveled into "excessive" territory.
On the downside, this is the LAPD, which has already stated that body camera footage will be available only via court proceedings. By cutting out the general public, the LAPD has removed a very important layer of accountability. And the incidents mentioned in the Reuters article as examples of public concern over police use of force (Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford) all notably did not involve the use of a Taser (Garner was choked to death, Brown and Ford were both shot). The new Taser/camera system closes the accountability gap for one particular area, but use of other types of force are still subject to officers' control of their body cameras.
The LAPD has proven in the past that its officers don't care much for being recorded, so the rollout of 7,000 body cameras needs to be treated with more skepticism than optimism. Widespread abuse of DOJ-mandated audio recording devices (missing/disabled antennas, deliberate disengagement) has been greeted by LAPD supervisors with timid hand slapping and "accountability is hard" complaints. There's no reason to believe certain officers won't be able to find a way around this new, automatic recording technology as well.
But, on a theoretical level, it's a better system than relying on officers themselves to engage recording devices before deploying Tasers. Its application in the real world will probably not be quite as foolproof as Taser's spokesman portrays it. And, even if it does roll out smoothly and work as advertised, we're still left with the unfortunate fact that the general public will have very limited access to either the Taser data or the automated recordings.