Cops Hate Hurdles

When cops have to hurdle usually bad things happen

Police are no Hurdlers.

In the wake of the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, Missouri and the Eric Garner incident on Staten Island, NY, there has been in upsurge in the call for police to wear body-mounted cameras throughout their shift. Many people calling for these cameras believe this this will reign in what they believe is out of control law enforcement that has taken over the streets in America today.

Proponents of officers wearing body cameras quote multiple studies showing citizens complaints against officers have been reduced. These same studies claim to show better behavior by those being arrested when officers are wearing cameras. These advocates insist that police officers can’t be taken at their word and that these videos are they only way to watch over the police.

Is this improved behavior a result of officers and citizens acting better because someone is watching, or are officers backing away from proactive policing that may have led to earlier complaints in the past? My guess is the latter. I have been in law enforcement for approximately 30 years and from what I have learned over that time is that most cops are sprinters, not hurdlers. When the track is clear they will go straight ahead. When you place a hurdle on the track three things will happen when the runner gets there, he can go over, go around or stop. There are some agencies and officers who are using the body camera by choice. These officers have no problem wearing the camera and are not restricted by their use. Some officers go around the hurdle. There are instances where the camera is off or malfunctions during encounters with the public. There are multiple media reports of this happening. Finally the last group will just stop. This group will never be comfortable wearing the camera and will resent their use. These officers may be required to wear the camera, however, what they do with their time during their shift may change considerably. For these officers, proactive police work will come to an end.

There are some officers who already pay for their own cameras and welcome the use of this technology. For this group of officers the use of body cameras will obviously not be a hurdle. Advocates for the use of body cameras are coming from police management and outside groups like the Justice Department and the American Civil Liberties Union

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has weighed in heavily for the use of body cameras. Even the ACLU has mixed feelings about the use of the cameras. A staunch defender of all people’s rights, they gloss over the concerns that the officers wearing these cameras will experience significant privacy loss. They also give no clear answer on who has the right to view the tapes. Because they are arguing that the tapes are required to keep the police in check, they need to sacrifice the rights of the public that the police come in contact with.

Most officers today go into their shift knowing that any incident they are involved in stands the chance of being recorded. Between security cameras and the use of cell phone cameras, very little occurs on the street that isn’t recorded. The officers in the Eric Garner incident on Staten Island, New York weren’t wearing cameras, yet there is plenty of video of the arrest. Whatever you position is in the outcome of that situation, one thing is certain, the officers were fairly certain that they were being recorded. This knowledge that they were being recorded suggests that their actions would have been the same if they had been wearing a body camera. Many resent court decisions, particularly Glik v. Cunniffe 655 F.3d 78 (2011) have affirmed the right of people to videotape the police in public. These court decisions trump state wiretapping laws they may have been enacted decades ago that limited the use of recording devices.

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