The riots and protests that swept through Ferguson this summer left a huge impression on the minds of the average American. The masses got to see with their own eyes, police brutality and corruption on a massive scale. For the very first time, those events forced the mainstream media to recognize the widespread militarization of our local police.
After the dust settled, people wanted something to be done. They demanded something be done. What could we do to cut through the thin blue line, and rein in these heavily armed cowboy cops?
For most, the answer lies in equipping them with body cams. If the police are forced to record every action, we can catch them in act. Even better, the threat of being caught will keep them from abusing their power in the first place. So far there’s been a few police departments that have enacted this protocol with spectacular results.
When the city of Rialto California equipped their police officers with body cams, the use of force by police was reduced by 60 percent, and the number of complaints against the department dropped by 88 percent. “Problem solved!” you might be thinking. We can finally penetrate the thin blue line. We the public, can finally hold them accountable for their actions.
Unfortunately, there’s a few hiccups in that plan. For starters, it isn’t going curb police corruption. Sure, we’ll catch a few hotheads here and there, but by and large, I don’t expect it to have any measurable effect. There’s one simple fact that the proponents of body cams are ignoring.
When a cop does something truly heinous, those body cams have a tendency to “malfunction”. Footage tends to “get lost” and sometimes officers “forget” to turn them on. Take the case of Mark Byrge who had a traffic accident in Utah, and a rather painful encounter with the local police.
Byrge . . . made a single request of his captors: Owing to several back surgeries and the implantation of a $50,000 Spinal Cord Stimulator (SCS), Mark asked that the officers cuff him in front.
While explaining his condition, Mark very slowly and carefully lifted his shirt in order to display an iPod-sized rectangular lump in his lower right back.
Neither Mark’s cooperation nor his explanation made an impression on Gianfelice.
“Don’t tell me how to do my job – put your hands behind your back!” barked Gianfelice, instructing his trainee officer, Jennifer Nakai, to apply the cuffs. Before being shackled, Mark called his wife Tina to tell her he was being arrested.
Byrge says Gianfelice then pushed into the squad car and pushed him up against the seat, which Byrge says destroyed his medical device. According to medical scans of the device taken later, it stopped functioning while Byrge was in Gianfelice’s custody. The device had been implanted to treat chronic pain in Byrge’s leg. When it stopped functioning, Byrge’s leg began seizing. Gianfelice apparently took this as a sign of resisting, and so subjected Byrge to more abuse.
So what about the footage found on the body cameras that those cops were wearing? Nobody knows. Either there was a malfunction in all three cameras or they weren’t turned on. The dash cam footage from the squad cars is also missing. That’s not suspicious at all right?
Truth be told, even if there isn’t some kind of malfunction or the footage isn’t lost, the police still have a lot of control over access to these videos. They have to be. The nature of their job means that they’re going to be documenting people when they are at their most vulnerable. Those cameras are going to catch scenes that most private citizens would not want the public to see. That same power that is needed to protect the privacy of the average citizen is going to make footage of police transgressions, very hard to get a hold of.
Unless a bystander films the police doing something bad, and it calls the official report into question, there’s a good chance that the body cam footage will never see the light of day. The same police department that’s responsible for police abuse, is also going to be responsible for the evidence of that abuse. It’s a case of “who’s watching the watchmen?” so to speak.
If a police department is concerned about police abuse, then these cameras will help them keep an eye on their officers. It’ll stop the small stuff I’m sure. If however, a police officer does something truly terrible, something so bad it could be career ending, then there’s a good chance no one is going to see it. If the department is corrupt, then no amount of technology is going to change that.
It seems like there’s one more aspect of body cameras that no one has considered, but has me deeply concerned. Even if these cameras can stop unlawful police abuse, it cannot stop police abuse that is lawful. By that I mean, it will do nothing to stop the cops from enforcing unfair laws. It’s not going to stop the drug war, or traffic quotas. It’s not going to stop the police from shooting you with tasers if you refuse to comply. It’s not going to stop them seizing your assets on a whim. It’s not going to stop them shooting your dog if he barks at them.
In short, it does absolutely nothing to stop an oppressive government, because all of these things are legal. In fact, I think it will do the opposite. I think it may turn our police into the perfect enforcers of government policy.
Think about this. How often do you see a video of a cop doing something good? Every now and then a video will start trending on facebook, showing a cop respecting someone’s rights, or helping someone less fortunate. They’re usually quite popular, because they’re also quite rare. And after seeing so many police abuse videos, we love seeing cops that are great human beings.
So why are these videos so rare? There’s got to be a thousand police abuse videos, for every video of a cop doing the right thing. Somehow I seriously doubt that vicious police officers outnumber the good guys by a thousand to one.
The reason you almost never hear about cops doing good things, is because there’s no reason to record it. I doubt most people think to pull out their phones unless they think something bad is going to happen. If anything, filming such actions might get the cop into serious trouble, especially if doing the right thing means breaking the laws they’re supposed to enforce.
You never see a video of a cop letting a traffic ticket slide. You never see cops giving a drunk guy a lift home, instead of dumping him in jail for the night. You never see a cop finding pot on a teenager, but pretending he didn’t see it because he doesn’t want to ruin his life. And if a cop stops an old lady, and discovers he or she is packing a pistol without a permit, you’ll never see the video of him letting it go because he knows the neighborhood is so dangerous. It’s the good deeds that you’ll never see.
Maybe I’m just naive, but I’d like to think that there’s still a lot of good people in law enforcement. Like any institution, there’s good guys and bad guys. But, if you force them to wear body cameras, you’re forcing them to follow every law, and there’s so many laws on the books, that we’re all guilty of something. The state has made sure to enact so many vague and arbitrary laws, that any of us could be arrested at any time.
My point being, there’s a lot potential for this to be used against the public. I foresee this technology being used, not to prevent police abuses, but to watch over the shoulder of every police officer. Put a bureaucrat in every department, whose sole job is to stare at live feeds of body cams all day. Make sure officer so and so is doing his job, even when his job becomes unethical. Make sure he’s generating his monthly quota, busting jaywalkers and loiterers all day. Make sure he’s busing every homeless person to the edge of the city limits.
Maybe they’ll give that bureaucrat a live mic to, so he can whisper orders every minute of the day. “don’t let that protester out of your sight. That dog is looking at you funny, shoot him. That citizen is parked in the red, taze him. That woman is filming you, book her and send her to county.”
What a nightmare.
Remember, for every cop who joined the force so he could hurt citizens with impunity, there’s another cop who joined because he thought he could make the world a better place. If these cameras end up being used to enforce the law rather than protecting our rights, it will drive away every “good cop” from the field. There will be no human beings left in our police departments. There will only be yes-men and sadists
Forcing the police to wear body cameras won’t stop the militarization of our police, and it won’t end the corruption and abuse. If anything, it’s going to turn police officers into nothing more than mobile spy cameras for Big Brother. The only thing that will put an end to the abuse, is ordinary citizens filming and documenting the police with their own cameras, and letting the world see it. We’ve seen what the government does with technology, and it’s almost never been good. Why should we expect it to be any different this time around?
Technology in the hands of the government is tyranny. Technology in the hands of the people, is freedom.
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Contributed by Joshua Krause of The Daily Sheeple.
Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger .