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Recording police officers is fair practice

Tyler Smith, Opinion Editor
April 1, 2014
Filed under Opinion

Police departments nationwide are ushering in a new era of accountability. Departments are experimenting with mounted, portable cameras for their officers during citizen interactions to ensure honesty on both sides of a conflict.

“Most law enforcement leaders and civil liberties advocates believe the cameras will ultimately help officers because the devices give them a way to record events from their point of view at a time when citizens armed with cellphones are actively scrutinizing their every move,” the Associated Press said.

Filming police is not a foreign practice — whether it’s the use of cellphone cameras or officers’ dashboard mounted cams. Portable cameras worn by officers are only a logical step in a positive direction.

The Los Angeles Police Department is already utilizing this much-needed technology and the New York Police Department is looking into incorporating it as well, according to CNN Money writer James O’Toole.

Tony Farrar, Rialto, Calif.’s chief of police, said the use of force by officers dropped from 60 incidents to 25 within one year of the technology’s use, according to O’Toole.

Furthermore, Farrar has been approached by departments from Brazil, Japan and the United Kingdom for details on the program his department uses, O’Toole said.

Every cop should be equipped with these cameras to both provide accountability for their actions and prevent any abuse of power, but also to provide concrete evidence to support an investigation.

A case is currently under review in which Abraham, a male Brooklyn driver suspected of making an illegal left turn, had purchased his own private dashboard camera that recorded the police officer who ticketed him, according to CBS 2 News.

“Abraham said he is looking forward to his day in Traffic Court and that he plans to bring the video,” CBS 2 News said.

Video surveillance is a means of truth that can vindicate either party in a courtroom, but it shouldn’t fall to the people to watch the police — that duty lies with their supervisors.

The San Diego Police Department is preparing to outfit nearly 1,000 officers with cameras because of concerns of racial profiling.

They hope to provide evidence against false complaints and to show any real misconduct, according to the Voice of San Diego writer Liam Dillon.

There are still issues to address when implementing these watchful eyes. One is proper enforcement.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes Pennsylvania’s pending law for authorizing these worn cameras because they feel too much power lies in the hands of the police rather than the public, O’Toole said.

The ACLU stated in a memorandum to the Senate of Pennsylvania that editing techniques could be used in which officers are free to choose when to turn their cameras on and off.

The ACLU’s memorandum references an incident when two men in Seattle filed a claim of excessive force and wrongful arrest. The altercation was recorded but key moments were missing.

This may seem like a fair argument, but the truth is a huge gap in footage with a time discrepancy alone could show potential malpractice on the officer’s part. Corruption is going to take place by certain individuals no matter what system is in place.

The L.A.P.D. said it will craft a policy with input from the community when they finish their six months of field testing and gain a better understanding of using the cameras, according to the Associated Press.

This is how this system must be enacted. If done correctly, a new system of trust could develop between citizens and the police who are supposed to serve as protectors, not individuals to be distrusted, hated or feared.

The second major concern however, is the handling of any gathered evidence the mounted cameras capture.

San Diego police officers were involved in two separate shootings within the past few months, both captured by cameras the individuals had worn, Dillon said.

The video surveillance is being held for investigative purposes, but the police have made it clear they are not required to release the footage under a public records request, according to Dillon.

Issues of transparency aside, these new practices don’t have all of the policies enforced yet. The S.D.P.D. in particular is still deciding how to handle the footage after the investigations end, according to Dillon.

The system isn’t perfect yet — a fault due more to rapidly evolving technology and slow legal processes dictating usage.

The fact still remains that cameras are everywhere in today’s digital age — a double edged sword viewable as either a danger to privacy or a source of irrefutable truth.

The role of an officer is to ensure the public’s safety and uphold the law. But an officer is just a role, something any human   can abuse.

Accountability must be upheld not only to protect the general populace from abuses of power, but also good officers.

Video from the standpoint of an officer is hard evidence for any situation that will be difficult to argue against.