Since when did police officers lose their citizenship and rights under the First Ten Amendments to the U.S. Constitution? I thought that everyone in the United States had the benefit of “Innocent until proven guilty” and Due Process? Every time I hear the words, “Police Involved Shooting” these days, I hold my breath and wait for the other shoe to drop. Like many, I turn to the Internet to find the latest information. What do a find? Social media police academy graduates explaining to the world what the police should have or shouldn’t have done. These posts often point out what should be done about the “Cops Gone Wild.”
The latest remedy for police involved shootings is body cams. Even Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton said she approved of them. The public never knows what it wants. It is often swayed by a few people into thinking they know what they want. In the end however, my Dad’s saying, “be careful what you wish for you just might get it,” always seems to ring true. Before rushing into any immediate and long lasting changes, they should be carefully analyzed. That does not seem to be the case once again in regards to police worn body cams.
There are only two types of people in this world – Civil Libertarians and Crime Control Advocates. Civil libertarians are for the use of body cams citing incidents of police misconduct and Crime Control Advocates will decry their use stating it will make it more difficult to get the bad guys off the street. In many ways, the both groups are right.
Body cams for police officers are a good thing. They will keep those dishonest and / or brutal cops straight and it will also force the public to act within the guidelines of the law. In business, they’d call it a “Win – Win” situation. Cams will also protect officers from often malicious retaliatory allegations of misconduct. What isn’t the public and politicians thinking about when deploying these body cams? What could possibly go wrong with this idea? Before they were rolled out, policies and procedures should have been drafted with their use.
For every action there is a reaction. Here are some of the consequences that the public will face as nervous police administrators and politicians look to appease those shouting the loudest. As usual, the knee-jerk reaction in an ever growing negative police environment has happened and there is no turning back. Politicians have ordered the roll out of body cams en masse with the hopes of looking better to their constituents without fully evaluating any other consequences.
Less interaction with the public
One of the responses to the growing rift between the police and the communities they serve, is to bring back community policing – cops and the community coming together to share information in order to solve crime. How do you plan on developing trust when each party knows that they are being video recorded and anything they do or say will be used against them, possibly in a court of law? Police officers may be less willing to engage people in the street with the fear that something could go wrong. Will they be judged on the interaction based solely on the videotape? Police officers understand that the only ten second clip that will make its rounds on the Internet and media outlets won’t tell the truth of what transpired. No police officer leaves for their patrol sector in the hopes of becoming the next viral video of the week. How will they prevent it? Easy, no extra or unnecessary interaction with the public.
Fewer tips in the street
Police officers and their detective counterparts have been fighting a culture of “No Snitching” for decades. It is difficult enough to obtain information from the public on many crimes such as gangs and drugs because they fear for their own safety. There is a good reason for that. These types of criminals wouldn’t think twice before killing someone that snitched or was perceived to be talking with the cops. Now, we want cops to interview them on the street so their face and voice can be recorded for all to see? Bad guys will be watching these street canvasses very closely. I think you will see less community interaction and more doors slamming. Intelligence is the lifeblood of all investigations, without it, crime clearance rates will continue to decline leaving more criminals free to cause further victimization.
Less Proactive Police Strategies
A little over twenty years ago the nation’s police departments abandoned the Reactive style of policing in favor of Proactive “Broken Windows” style of policing. Within that twenty year period, violent crime is down nearly 50%. Now, those gains are in danger. There has been an obvious spike in murder rates across the country, especially in locations that had a “bad” police involved incident. The edict to go back to Reactive Policing didn’t come down from on high, but rather as an individual officer decision. How do I know this? It’s simple, all you have to do is look at the most proactive policing stat – gun arrests. Gun arrests have fallen off a cliff in most of those cities, if not all – more guns, more murders. It appears as if the body cams have affected this statistic the most. Anytime the police are going after armed individuals, the likelihood of a police involved shooting is exponential.
Less privacy in your home
The only remaining place that is left from Fourth Amendment intrusions was your home, however, you can strike that from the list now too. Ironically, civil libertarians have been screaming that too many cameras exist in public spaces, now want them on every police officer. Every time a citizen calls 911 and the police show up, they will be on videotape. The officer will be recording the citizen, the conversations, the house contents and all of the occupants – even those that weren’t involved. It will also make Plain View exceptions to the search warrant even easier to prosecute. There will be no argument if the item discovered was contraband or not – the police were their lawfully. Police bodycams will also streamline the pretrial Mapp Hearing – the one that tests to determine if evidence recovered violated the person’s Fourth Amendment Right. Are defense attorneys ready for this?
Will all videotaped interactions be subjected to Freedom of Information requests? If not, would the perception be that the police are hiding something? It is already happening. A New York town is experiencing this at the moment of this writing. During a buy and bust operation, a drug dealer was shot as he tried to flee. At least one officer was wearing a body cam – the department has so far refused to release it causing speculation. Citizens are asking what cops have always said, “If you are doing nothing wrong, there is nothing to worry about.”
Storage of video
Police departments will be forced to invest in a facility suitable for the storage of digital media as well as hire additional qualified people to secure and operate it. Expenses related to securing the facility from hackers must also be taken into consideration. Court cases will depend on some of these videotapes going forward – convictions and exonerations will be counting on it. Some of the videos will have to be stored indefinitely – they will never know when they’ll need it.
Defense attorneys have to prove “Reasonable Doubt” in order to get their clients off of a charge. Did anyone think how high conviction rates will be going up with video taped evidence? I don’t think there is a better way to crush Reasonable Doubt then with Direct Evidence. Juries will fall into the mindset that they just witnessed the person commit the crime – case over. This compounds the civil libertarian argument that there is too many people in prison. Those numbers will only get worse. Civil libertarians will cause their own angst.
You lie, you go to jail
Many police officers, including myself, have been the victims of malicious retaliatory moves by upset citizens that either received a summons or was arrested. Those allegations often go unsubstantiated and remain on the officer’s record their entire career. These complaints often weigh in during promotions and better assignments within the department. False complaints are often made by bad guys against officers that have been impacting their “business” knowing full well that the department will eventually reassign him / her – I have witnessed this myself. Recently out West, a female was caught on a police body cam during her DUI arrest saying in sum and substance that she was going to make a complaint that she was sexually assaulted by the officer. If it weren’t for that body cam, that officer would have had to contend with a serious investigation. Instead, the citizen had to.
Too often police departments are unwilling to change or embrace new ideas thinking that everything is “anti-police.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. That mentality will change – it always does. Over a short period of time, officers will be reluctant to go on patrol without their body camera the same way as they do their firearm and vest. I’m an advocate for police worn body cams – there are benefits for the police and the public.
Due the tumultuous nature of events occurring in cities across the United States after a police incident, politicians have acted quickly to protect their own self-interests without weighing the consequences. I do this thing called thinking. It’s a lost art these days and I only wish that politicians and police administrators did it more often. Instead, the attitude is “get it out there” and “we’ll address the problems later” is common speak amongst police organizations.
In light of what has been happening in the news, if anyone should be wearing body cams, it’s the politicians.