Friday, March 12, 2010

Police head-set cams a great idea with few downsides

I think this is an excellent idea that should be implemented widely. Via ABC-News:

A new camera and sound system that can be worn like a headset may change police work as we know it. The new Taser head set cam is being tested now in four American cities, and the cops seem to think is it a game changer.

Cincinnati police chief Thomas Streicher said, "It is the next giant step for law enforcement in America."

Cop Cam The camera puts you in the shoes of the police officer. You can see, hear and experience a confrontation as an officer does.

The video looks like a something from a movie or a high-end video game. But this is no video game -- it’s real. ...

Chief Streicher says the cameras not only provide virtually ‘bullet proof’ evidence in criminal cases witnessed by an officer, but they provide police accountability as well.

“The camera doesn’t lie,” Streicher said. And he pointed out that the camera can also provide evidence that can exonerate a police officer when his or her conduct is challenged.

“This is transparency,” he said.

I'll never forget when Texas' racial profiling law passed in 2001, Texas' police unions fought the idea of putting dashcams in police cars tooth and nail. They thought it was an anti-law enforcement initiative that smacked of "Big Brother" - that we only wanted the video to attack police officers.

But once the cameras were in place, it quickly became apparent that 9 times out of ten it benefited the police more than defendants, providing rock-solid evidence for court and protecting them from false accusations. For example, having audio when an officer receives consent to search a vehicle can avoid a future suppression hearing and ensure that whatever is found during a search isn't excluded from court. They're particularly useful in DWI cases. Plus, in instances of police misconduct, the tapes caught that, too, increasing professionalism and accountability. It's now been years since I heard officers complaining about dashcams, and for the most part they think they're great.

One problem that's arisen in Austin with dashcams is police officers conveniently turning them off when controversial incidents occur, including a high-profile shooting incident. In order to preserve the public's trust and the integrity of investigations, individual officers shouldn't control when they're activated, or else officers should be disciplined when they fail to use them. The Austin incident showed that when cameras are selectively used, it degrades the public trust just as significantly as they enhance it when audio and video is available.


Roy said...

The police will still 'confiscate' cameras from citizens so the recordings cannot be used as evidence of crimes committed by the police.

So, no, cops are still camera-averse, but if there have to be cameras, the cops want all of them.

Anonymous said...

"Habitual Criminals With Microchips A Better Idea With No Downsides"

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Roy, you might actually see less of that if cops knew their own cameras are running.

7:41, good luck with that. And btw, the tin-foil hat looks nice on you. :)

policy said...

Yes, i think that this is also a great idea. NO that's not true what roy has said.

Old Cop said...

Grits, years ago when I was a cop, and later as a career prosecutor, I advocated for tape recorders, and then, video for documenting citizen contacts, consent searches, interrogation/confessions,witness statements, etc.

Later when the legislature mandated videotaping in counties with less than 25k population, the outfit who cried the loudest (and in many instances just refused to comply), was DPS.

I always thought that law enforcement would welcome DOCUMENTATION of investigative efforts, reasonableness of stops, probable cause for arrests, consent for searches, and so on. Boy was I stupid (and naive).

It's amazing how many officers modern dash-cams "malfunction" when the facts surrounding the contact are in question and may not be favorable to the agency or the case at hand.

Sad commentary on the level and integrity of many of today's investigations.

Anonymous said...

Cops are the very last ones who will embrace this idea.

Think about it: The "Code of Silence" is the rule by which most cops live instead of the "Code Of Honor".

Police routinely confiscate and destroy citizens equipment if they are being filmed. Often they falsely arrest people for filming them.

Cops don't want their screw ups, their demonstrations of "anger non-management", or outright criminality documented.

And you'll never, ever see this idea implemented by para-military units such as SWAT.

No SWAT member would ever want the public to see them literally committing assault on innocent until proven guilty suspects and the terrible destruction of their personal property which is apparently mandatory in these raids.

Virtually all SWAT raids are performed to serve warrants not "hostage or terrorist" situations.

And Old Cop is exactly right. If such laws were ever passed - mysterious EMP's would surely simultaneously occur causing all of the equipment to "malfunction" .

The problem with Police today is they have forgotten "Protect and Serve" and embraced "Officer Safety Uber Alles" - them v us.

Anonymous said...

These comments just highlight the lack of accountability in the entire justice system. From Police to the Appeals Courts, it is virtually never the system that fails.

Even when innocense is proven without a reasonable doubt, nothing is done punish the folks that are responsible for the errors.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the last few posters - I remember commenting to an HPD friend of mine once that I was glad their cars had video cameras. He started laughing very hard, so I asked what he was laughing about. "You thought all of our cars had camera?! Haha!" turns out only a small percentage of Houston PD patrol cars have them. That number is probably higher with DPS.

Anyhow, when I mentioned that cameras in all cars should be mandatory, he said "Hell no! We don't want cameras in our cars". It would be MUCH too difficult to cover up all of their misdeeds.

Don't kid yourself Grits...the majority of cops DO NOT want to be held accountable by video/audio that they cannot control.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

9:51 - BTW, Houston and Dallas were the only two cities where most cars weren't outfitted with cameras. A state bond issue passed in 2001 made money available for cameras but it wasn't enough for all departments. The state doled it out starting with the smaller agencies (among the approximately 1,100 performing traffic stops) - as I recall, both Dallas and Houston got cameras for just a fraction of their cars, as you correctly point out.

In my experience, cops fear the cameras until they're forced on them, then once they're in use their attitudes change. IMO that would likely be the case in Houston, too.