Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cameras, cameras everywhere, but who can see the footage?

Cameras are changing 21st century policing and debates this week in Austin typify two examples how:

1. Check out an article by Tony Plohetski at the Austin Statesman on the running war of words and video between the Austin PD and the Peaceful Streets Project, a grassroots group which films APD officers mostly on Sixth Street and has sometimes caught police officers engaging in disreputable behavior. Grits approves of filming cops - some of my earliest allies in the criminal justice reform movement were young folks in a now-defunct group called Cop Watch. But I don't understand why some Peaceful Streets leaders insist on treating police with profanity-laced hostility. It's unnecessary and discredits what's otherwise important and difficult work.

2. On Thursday, the Austin City Council will consider whether to give Taser an eight-figure contract for body cameras and related data services - most of the cost for the latter, as is their business model. On her blog, Debbie Russell has been all over the dubious economics behind the Taser deal. APD wants to move forward with the contract without having specified in their written policy how and when the public can access video. Check out the Open Austin website advocating for transparency and a press release from advocacy groups describing how little APD has budged on key transparency topics.

Grits considers cheap digital cameras a great boon to police accountability, with the caveat that they also pose risks as a means of mass surveillance, a potential threat to crime victims' privacy (and for that matter, police officers'), and risk other abuses of the technology which we may not be able to predict right now. My hope is that, in the medium to long run, bodycams, dashcams, recorded interrogations, and the rise of citizen cellphone cams will collectively serve to regularize and professionalize police interactions with the public.

But that will only happen to the extent the footage is used to hold officers accountable. If they can keep bodycam footage secret, as APD would prefer, they can conceal their dirty laundry. Knowing about problems you will not fix is NOT the point of this multi-million dollar camera investment! And anyway, in this day and age, cops can't shut down the public's cameras. They're quite literally everywhere.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Grits, law enforcement says the body cam issue is about balancing privacy and transparency but that's only possible because of the enormous exemptions entrusted to them in many state's open records laws. In Texas, in police involved shootings, there is no TPIA requirement to turn over any video evidence of an incident. The only way to get it is to be a victim and sue. If you probe a little deeper, you'll see cops are far less concerned about privacy encroachment from body cam footage than they are worried about losing the awesome power entrusted to them by TPIA exemptions.

Any footage gathered by a cop in a public space should be subject to TPIA but with very low record retention requirements unless said video is part of an alleged offense or a reported complaint by a citizen about officer behavior. If footage comes from inside a private residence, because officers were invited in by the owner, that should be considered a public space. If officers are inside a private residence without the property owner's consent then video of said event should partially require the property owner's consent before release.

But special legal space should be carved out for police shootings and use of force cases. Any citizen should be able to obtain these video records in 3-4 days after an incident.

John Cokos said...


Video recording and the open access to law enforcement video are now paramount evidence in any street level encounter with law enforcement. It's the ingrained culture of corruption and un-accoutability that is underlying the push back on this. I won a out of court settlement with my local PD based in part on the recovery of deleted video recording.

As far as the Cop Watch situation, I agree with you that most of the abusive language and ramped up street theater of Cop Watch are counter productive and not much more than unproductive hyperbole from my perspective. Cop Watch is yesterday's 60'S street theater.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually, John, the old Cop Watch group in Austin from the '90s was always super respectful toward the cops they were filming. It's the new iteration - the Peaceful Streets Project - which sometimes seems to think insulting officers should be part of their advocacy.

francis garcia said...

The hand cuff is a tool, that can all too often be used to create pain, and thus a response by the targeted person to yell in pain, all too often we as Americans express ourselves in the well-known Irish war cry "F--k y-U" and if you’re an American Indian or your family ancestry is from the American South West the cry would be Chota`, or Pan-O-Chota.
This pain is induced by the officer at his discretion, his joy, and whenever he may be on his period; a time of the month when police offices experience their Hysteria and have no other way to bring attention to themselves, other than negative attention. the Tool is in the hands of a boy that can and will use it to the extremes, some will take off the cuff and hit the person over the head with them just to get attention.

However, the yelling is a common response, and the vulgarity of the statement is in ear of the behold , However the law and many judges are determined to bring respect to the life of a police officer they are willing to close their eyes to the fact that people all over the world say f--k You! : to their mothers, children, the Television, to G-D, and to any one that has made a mess of something , and someone else will have to clean up: the courts and the district attorney’s office are on task they are determined to clean up any and all messes that a police officer has left behind , because he has a hyper sensitivity toward people of color, and when they say bad words they are inflicting pain, dishonor, and a threat to them personally , and toward their profession.
Insults directed at police is an expression of free will, and the police the courts or even god cannot stop the expression that has gone national and has been a socially accepted expression for as long as there have been Cops, Chota, and all the other names used to express bad behavior in policemen, police departments, and a profession that make up its own rules as it goes.
Comming from Greeley colorado

Anonymous said...

Handcuffs are not comfort cuffs. If they were comfort cuffs, them they would be called comfort cuffs.

francis garcia said...

How about cuffing dead men after he has been shot by police for a domestic or minor offence, and
cuffing a minority child around the head and ears, before placing them on the wrist, and having a women molested by the handcuff of police man while he strokes her breasts and thigh.
A lot of imitation by police men has been used to support the standard hand cuff.
Each time the use of the hand cuff is used, it has a tendency to provoke a response.
The comfort cuff is quickly turned into a sadist and mosaicist cuff, a revenge cuff and a I hate you cuff and you can do nothing about it cuffing drama and all the while the policemen is garnering a stiff one.
The hand cuff has brought on pleasure to many old and young cops in Colorado.
Provoking drunks and fools into breaking the law all starts with a twist of the wrist, and hammering down the clamps.