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Government Media News

Entering the Age of Body-Worn Police Cameras (arstechnica.com) 202

An anonymous reader writes: Cyrus Farivar writes about what's being called a new era in policing: the era of body-worn cameras. They're gaining a foothold in departments around the U.S. after a year of increasing tensions between police and citizens, caused by a series of high-profile shootings. Several research groups are busily evaluating how the cameras affect the way police do their jobs. Many officers welcome the technology — in addition to providing evidence backing up the use of force, it often helps with investigations, capturing details they may miss at the time of an incident. Farivar even goes through a couple of simulated encounters, while pretending to be a cop. The camera easily shows him everything he did wrong. In this way, police officers can also review encounters for training purposes. As more departments adopt them, it's looking like a win-win — police benefit, and the public gets access to some much-desired accountability.
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Entering the Age of Body-Worn Police Cameras

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  • by gfxguy ( 98788 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @09:29AM (#51247669)

    A lot of the things that have happened recently in the U.S. could have been put to rest - one way or another - with first person video (and often multiple points of view).

    Dash cams are great, and we should continue using them on EVERY car, but every officer should also have this kind of tech. There should also be punishments or reprimands if the device is turned off during a shift (malfunctions aside). The video should also be streamed to their vehicles and, perhaps, even relayed directly back to the station.

    • A lot of the things that have happened recently in the U.S. could have been put to rest - one way or another - with first person video (and often multiple points of view). Dash cams are great, and we should continue using them on EVERY car, but every officer should also have this kind of tech. There should also be punishments or reprimands if the device is turned off during a shift (malfunctions aside). The video should also be streamed to their vehicles and, perhaps, even relayed directly back to the station.

      I'm all for this, but some recent events [usatoday.com] caught on video [washingtonpost.com] haven't been enough to draw up charges. They make sure to take care of their own.

      • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
        I don't get it... the first article says the officer was charged with murder, in the second the motorist was completely wrong.
        • Yeah, I linked to the wrong incident for the first one. The second one, the teen in question did act poorly, but the shooting was an excessive use of force. Besides, the cop was stupid for pulling the teen over for brighting him. He could have just flashed the kid back and moved on with life. I'm probably also a little pumped up right now because I just got done watching Making a Murderer [netflix.com].
        • in the second the motorist was completely wrong.

          So was the cop. First he was knowingly and intentionally driving around in a dangerous manner (headlights angled too high mean oncoming drivers can't see properly). Instead of getting his car fixed he used that as an excuse to stop and check as many drivers as he could.

          Then the cop seemed intent on escalating the situation to the greatest extent possible, and was never in danger of his life.

          Was the teen an idiot? Yep, but that's not an excuse for an execution

      • It is having an effect though, even if some sketchy incidents are ultimately not prosecuted. This is a good thing.

        Quite frankly, I doubt police incidents are worse or more numerous than in the past, just more visible because of cell phones.

        • Whether police are involved or not, I am highly suspicious of most any video posted these days because it seems that they somehow manage to always miss the initial incident and only catch the "overreactive" response.
          I also am skeptical of all of these videos of street interactions. It's not like the camera is rolling continuously and of course they can pick and choose the interactions they show depending on what agenda they want to put forth. Also, shouldn't they be getting all of these people they are fil
    • Can we have a public feed sponsored by Dunk'n'Doughnuts
    • There should also be punishments or reprimands if the device is turned off during a shift (malfunctions aside).

      There are times when a police officer is on shift but in what is considered private time.
      - Do we need to record an officer urinating.
      - Are private conversations over lunch public record?
      I believe that the camera needs to be on at any time an officer is interacting with the public but not all shift. I agree with the punishment/reprimand if they do not have it on at the correct times.
      As for streaming to car or station. I believe it should be done where practical but there are places where radio signals do not

    • Ferguson would have been over in about 5 minutes.
  • Though, it's likely not necessary to sell the use of body cameras by law enforcement on this forum.

    This is an appropriate application of technology to remedy a system that has shown to have abuses of power.

    And. It should be sold to those who police us as, "Well, if you have nothing to hide..."

    • Re:Hear, hear (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @09:37AM (#51247709)

      It's not just to curtail abuses of power either, but to protect good cops who take the appropriate actions but afterwards are second-guessed and told they acted inappropriately. Instead of just having "they say this/the officer says that", we can have a video released showing the entire encounter. That video can either exonerate the officer (stopping huge protests or calls for his arrest) or provide evidence if he did do something wrong. Either way, more transparency is a good thing for everyone involved.

      • It's not just to curtail abuses of power either, but to protect good cops who take the appropriate actions but afterwards are second-guessed and told they acted inappropriately. Instead of just having "they say this/the officer says that", we can have a video released showing the entire encounter. That video can either exonerate the officer (stopping huge protests or calls for his arrest) or provide evidence if he did do something wrong. Either way, more transparency is a good thing for everyone involved.

        Absolutely. It's a thankless job, and my hat is off to the folks who deal with it daily.

        But if we're honest, widespread proliferation of body cameras is not occurring to protect good cops.

        Abuses of the power of police are daily time fillers for the 24 news cycle on the order of D.J. Trump.

        • by Copid ( 137416 )
          That's the reason we want them. But the reason police unions can't find a politically viable reason to oppose them is that they'll protect the good cops that they assure us are 99.999999999% of all officers. Especially since the statistics seem to show that cameras reduce complaints against officers. Whether that's because they're mostly acting better or because people were mostly making up those complaints isn't something we ever even need to know. The fact that the cameras have that effect is reason e
      • protect good cops who take the appropriate actions but afterwards are second-guessed and told they acted inappropriately

        Considering how often police literally get away with murder, I refuse to believe the frequency with which this sort of thing happens is anything more than negligible.

        • I'm thinking of situations where people - already on edge because of the actions of bad cops - take half of the story of an otherwise perfectly understandable police response and blow it out of proportion. The good officers get swept up in the hysteria over the bad officers' actions. Body cameras will give the public the full story which should deflate outrage in cases of good cops and focus is on the bad cops where it belongs. Everyone wins (except for the bad cops).

      • It also has the potential to save a lot of money as petty thugs caught red-handed will no longer bother to plead Not Guilty after seeing the police videos, reducing court costs.
      • by sribe ( 304414 )

        It's not just to curtail abuses of power either, but to protect good cops who take the appropriate actions but afterwards are second-guessed and told they acted inappropriately.

        Yep, I bet at least 90% of complaints are bogus. And for the rest, the cameras will help toward the more timely removal of those officers not suited for the job.

  • Use of force? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @09:34AM (#51247689)

    in addition to providing evidence backing up the use of force

    If a police officer needs to use force for anything other than a massive shoot-out with criminal gangs then either he's failing as a police officer or America is failing as a civilisation. There are countries in the world where the police don't routinely carry guns. American police have killed more people in the first few days of the year than most countries do annually.

    Police should be attempting to find alternatives to the use of force to resolve situations rather than backing it up.

    • by jabuzz ( 182671 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @10:47AM (#51248179) Homepage

      You are assuming that use of force means opening fire with a gun. It could also mean firing a taser or use of pepper and/or CS spray, deployment of a baton, use of force in restraint etc. I say all this as a UK citizen where all of the above would be described as use of force.

      Here is an example of none lethal force being deployed probably inappropriately leading to the death of someone in the U.K.

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-s... [bbc.co.uk]

      The Police don't need guns to kill you.

    • by Ogive17 ( 691899 )
      I'm sure there are more US police that are killed in the line of duty as well.

      I look at it as a "chicken or the egg" type question. Which came first, public mistrust of the police or policy paranoia? My dad is a retired cop, sheriff's department for a county with less than 100,000 total residents (I think the department was involved in only 2 or 3 shootings in his 25+ years.. every time the criminal fired the first shots). Even on traffic stops, they are worried that the driver could easily be waiting
      • So we'll go with America failing as a civilisation then. I find it absolutely amazing that the country ended up in a position that the police are completely distrusted and that they defend themselves in ways that make themselves untrustworthy.

        It's not really a hole you can easily dig yourself out of short of completely disbanding one side and starting afresh.

      • by qurk ( 87195 )
        Any policeman with a gun strapped to his side is an inititial, immediate threat. The fact that it's impossible to trust them, even to do what is in their best interests, makes any situation where you are near one more volatile. The fact that police unions across the country still cater to Harry Anslingers beliefs, a man who died 60 years ago, over any conceivable application of American liberties or ideals, shows that not a single man with a badge can be trusted. Any encounter with the police must be rea
    • So what you're saying is that throughout the rest of the world no cops ever have to tackle a criminal and pin them while they get their cuffs on? Must be nice living in a fantasyland.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY ( 1334993 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @09:36AM (#51247705)

    One of the effects of body cameras is complaints against the police go down:

    http://www.sandiegouniontribun... [sandiegouniontribune.com]

    http://www.cleveland.com/cityh... [cleveland.com]

    http://www.policeone.com/offic... [policeone.com]

    Policing involves dealing with people who are motivated to lie; lie to the police and lie about the police. All cops hear all day long are lies lies lies and some of those lies get pointed at them. It's true that cops are less likely to abuse their position if they know they're being recorded but that also holds true for citizens lying about cops' conduct.

    The net effect is complaints go down, but there are two forces giving rise to that effect; it's not just the police changing their conduct. Just sayin'

    • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @10:57AM (#51248283) Journal

      Policing involves dealing with people who are motivated to lie

      Yes: cops.

      Being glib, but every time there's some problem with the police (over hear at any rate), they release a statement, then a week later, it turns out that the police lied to try to save their own skins.

      • "Everytime" sounds like hyperbole fuelled by the wonderful media that goes after the statements in the first place. The reality is that the police have several orders of magnitude more altercations than you ever hear about.

      • Being glib, but every time the media reports some problem with the police (over hear at any rate), they release a statement, then a week later, it turns out that the police lied to try to save their own skins.

        That is called selection bias.

        • That is called selection bias.

          Being in the UK, we get very, very few news stories about the police killing anyone. So OK, it's not every time, that was hyperbole. It is however distressingly frequent. Not only that, when they lie blatantly and get caught, there are never any reprecussions.

          Looking at the list of people killed by the police, they've been caught blatantly lying in at least 10% of the cases (that I can remember off the top of my head). That's a rather high fraction.

      • You're forgetting that 95% of the time, it's the perp that is lying. Now, those 95% of cases will go very smoothly indeed, with the perp generally pleading Guilty.
    • by fred911 ( 83970 )

      "Policing involves dealing with people who are motivated to lie; lie to the police and lie about the police. "

      Never, ever talk to police. Provide polite identification and documentation as required by law, then shut the fuck up. Repeat, shut the fuck up, no small talk, explanations, excuses destinations, plans or BS. People abiding the law don't have to explain ANYTHING (most of the time police look to entrap you with communication).

      I'm sorry officer but I'm unable to provide any further information, may I

  • Research Groups (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @09:45AM (#51247773) Homepage Journal
    It always seems like there are tons of "research groups" investigating every move the government makes. Who is paying these groups? Follow the money. They aren't doing it for free.
    • by gfxguy ( 98788 )
      Who cares? I mean, OK, sometimes I care, but in this case is there really any doubt of the positive benefits? Just because someone's making money doesn't mean it's bad.
    • In the case of organizations like the ACLU and EFF, it's donations from ordinary citizens who want our system to remain a democracy and not a technological totalitarian state.
  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @09:50AM (#51247809) Homepage Journal

    Some will (rightly) point out the privacy problems of police executing a no-knock raid and getting film of the housewife traipsing about in her birthday suit.

    Some of them will then proceed to blame the cameras rather than the [unconstitutional] no-knock raids. It's important to be able to clearly analyze the entirely of these situations and realize that the cameras are pointing out yet another reason existing abuses need to be extinguished.

    • by Shados ( 741919 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @10:20AM (#51247977)

      Forget the no knock raid here. People were quick to point at how bad the cameras everywhere policies were in some other countries... The US has a lot of cops. if they all have always on cameras and are just walking around in public...the state now has cameras everywhere. Congratz.

      • Forget the no knock raid here. People were quick to point at how bad the cameras everywhere policies were in some other countries... The US has a lot of cops. if they all have always on cameras and are just walking around in public...the state now has cameras everywhere. Congratz.

        At least you don't have an expectation of privacy while there's a cop standing where his body cam can see you - he's right there. That's pretty seriously different. Also, it puts the camera where you really need it — where it can monitor the cops. Remember, cops murdered more people than mass shooters this year.

        • Yep. I take issue with the proliferation of fixed-position surveillance cameras, but have no problem with body-worn ones.

        • Remember, cops murdered more people than mass shooters this year.

          Every time a cop kills someone it is not murder. Most time it is justifiable homicide as the suspect was trying to kill the police officer.

      • I agree that there has traditionally been no expectation of privacy in public but the fact that this is collecting so much data and, potentially, keeping it forever makes things different than before we had the technology we have today. Another factor is the state of information security today. It's really hard to keep data secret and away from attackers. Should the body camera footage from all officers be made public? If not, then the data has to be protected. Is this even practical?
    • by avandesande ( 143899 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @10:51AM (#51248229) Journal
      If you have a no-knock raid (a highly far fetched scenario BTW), the possibility that your wife is filmed naked is probably the last thing you would be worried about. In fact, if the raid was wrongly initiated such footage would probably be highly sympathetic in a civil lawsuit.
    • Yes, body cameras are a tools for handling over reaching or abusive police activity. If the information is not handled correctly cameras will also have a chilling effect on privacy and our lives. No-knock raids aside, police are often involved in non-criminal issues. Imagine if your teenage child has a yelling incident that adolescents are prone and the neighbors hearing an unusual ruckes next door call the cops - just be be safe. Cops show up to investigate and this teen ager is yelling and crying and
    • You mean that some woman who just had her front door kicked in, a gun pointed at her head while she was forced to the ground naked is going to have her naked tits on camera? Woes Me! She will be so distraught that her tits got caught on camera. Just imagine all the emotions going through her head right there because her tits are caught on camera.

      Reality: No one is going to give a shit until some lawyers tell them they could probably get some money out of someone because of it.

      • Nothing can ever wash away the shame of being seen on film naked. This is not an exaggeration! Men will be very interested in getting a peek at your pasty, average wife in distress instead of going to one of the thousands of adult sites....
    • The privacy issues go far beyond no-knock raids. In many jurisdictions police are routinely dispatched when an ambulance is called. If they have body cameras, they will capture all kinds of intimate things that most people would want to keep private.

  • I agree that its win-win. Still there are a few tech challenges:

    1) Upload - forget streaming, way too much bandwidth (think 1000's of officers for a large city, not just ONE stream). Will require wired connection and daily time for each officer.
    2) Storage - need to keep YEARS of data for on-going and potential court cases.
    3) Search and retrieval

  • Having footage of actual events is generally a good thing but my worry is that the footage may get edited in "post production" so to speak. Look at any reality TV show and it's pretty easy with some clever (or not so clever) editing to make someone appear far worse or far better than their actual actions. How long before cops learn how to start editing their footage? Who watches the watchmen? I know this stuff is covered under chain of evidence rules but I suspect there will be some loopholes and unfore

    • I think it's likely that there will eventually be some form of AI going through the video and picking out interesting things. It's probably going to do a poor job in the beginning and then get refinements. I'm not sure that such a system, however, will ever be better than just good enough to be dangerous.
  • Sometimes these cameras amazingly malfunction...right during a fatal shootout with a suspect. Then they magically come back on, as if an unknown force doesn't want to be held accountable. it's amazing.

  • Citizens recording (Score:5, Insightful)

    by vvaduva ( 859950 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @10:02AM (#51247875)

    And it is quite foolish to assume that cops want to actually be held accountable. Citizens need to get their own body cams or use apps like Bambuser and Cell 411 to notify each other when they encounter police. Theses types of apps that stream live video are especially necessary for activists and people involved in police encounters on a regular basis. Cops have erased video from citizens' devices in the past in order to destroy evidence, so it is not wise to assume their body cams are there for our protection.

    • Lets have a flash mob of people trying to record ever interaction with police. All it would take is a small scuffle to change a traffic stop into a mob scene.

    • This is exactly the position of the ACLU. You can't count count on police video to be unbiased. You need to take your own video [aclu.org].
    • Most people are carrying around a high-def video camera at all times. They only need to activate it. And for god's sake, if you're ever filming anything newsworty, HOLD YOUR PHONE SIDEWAYS!
  • by ganv ( 881057 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @10:28AM (#51248047)
    There is going to be increasing surveillance of public behavior in the decades to come. Police cameras seem inevitable. Human memory is just so unreliable that recording what actually happened will be overwhelmingly attractive. And sports have shown us what regular review of video can do to enhance performance. We'll have to be strategic in regulating access to these videos since they could become another piece of a comprehensive surveillance network that could enable those in power to suppress dissenters. It seems that recording is going to happen. The question is about how those in power are held accountable for how they use recordings.
    • They also need to held accountable for how they keep the video footage secure from both malicious insiders and outside hackers.
  • ... it should be handled as evidence.

    .
    Since the evidence may be for or against the police, the video should not be collected and archived by the police.

    .
    Otherwise there is always the possibility that video which puts the police in a bad light may have gaps in coverage, or the audio may disappear, or the video itself may be "lost".

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Wednesday January 06, 2016 @01:37PM (#51249613) Homepage Journal

    The body camera can show what actually happened, at least from one perspective at least, and that's good. I think all cops should wear them, subject to developing reasonable rules for privacy etc. But they can't show you what the officer thinks is happening, or the contextual information that led him to that. Those things are critical to judging whether the cop's actions are justifiable or criminal. A cop can shoot an innocent person because of bad information. Likewise a cop can shoot someone where the circumstances justify it, but without knowing that. In that case it's likely nothing will be done on the "no harm, no foul" theory, but you'd still have a rogue cop running around.

    Take the case of the shooting of John Crawford III [wikipedia.org], who was gunned down by a police team in a Walmart. When this happens we get dueling, simplistic narratives: if Crawford was shot it must have been because he was a thug... Or, if you prefer, he was shot because the cops are evil racists. When the video came out the discrepancies between the police accounts and what you could see for yourself strengthened the left wing construction of the scenario: the police are evil, lying racists. Without denying the existence of racist, lying cops, this interpretation of events doesn't explain why the cops would want to shoot a harmless stranger in the first place. Yes, you can't rule out utter depravity, but if you consider all the circumstances the more likely explanation is that they were primed to expect an active shooter. Recent science can explain pretty well how someone can perceive what he expects to perceive, although of course explanation is not the same as proof. What an explanation should do is raise doubts about interpretation.

    The Walmart videos essentially show the cops showing up and shooting Crawford immediately; there is no time for any of the things the police report happening to happen. Lying is the obvious explanation, but this could also be the product of a phenomenon many people have experienced personally: the brain's subjective experience of time is highly elastic. When you think you are in danger things seem to move in slow motion. That can interact with another, long-known physiological fact about visual perception. Look at your thumbnail at arm's length; that's roughly the area of the fovea centralis, which covers less than 1% of the area of your visual field, but accounts for about 50% of the information your brain receives. A few degrees to either side of that area and you can't tell the difference between a man and a woman, an adult and a child, or zucchini and a hand gun. But you don't experience looking at the world through a narrow tube, you experience it in super-widescreen high definition. That high def picture doesn't actually exist, it's constructed by your brain as your eye flits around the scene -- a fact exploited by magicians to create illusions. When your sense of time slows down, the picture doesn't go blurry; you still get the super-widescreen high def picture, but most of it consists of what you expect to be there. I expect this is what happened in the shooting of Tamir Rice. The officers perceived an adult male with a real gun, and perceived themselves having plenty of time for a good look, and were mistaken in every respect.

    Controversial videos often tend to discount the ready-made "blacks are thugs" explanation, although sometimes we may be missing some key context. But what about the "cops are racists" explanation? Well, there's no doubt the police have their share of racist psychopaths, but the problem with jumping to that conclusion is that when you're wrong you end up leaving the underlying problem in place. That includes institutional racism, which by definition is impersonal. The problem stop-and-frisk, arrest quotas, and other attempts to employ police as behavioral control agents is that they lead to conflict and hostility becoming the routine mo

  • If "Big Brother" is the state monitoring the citizens for evidence of misconduct, could the citizens' ability to monitor the state actors for evidence of misconduct be referred to as "Little Brother"?

  • This is great and all, but I'm waiting for the Age of Law Enforcement Accountability, where cases against police officers for excessive force resulting in death or gross injury no longer go through a grand jury and instead proceed straight to a jury trial. Until the District Attorneys stop fighting on behalf of the police to get them off in cases that clearly constitute murder, body cams are progress but not a solution.

  • We can all expect a lot of sudden EMP-like interference that wipes out the most important parts of the cop *and* citizens' cam recordings.

    Not that it will have _anything_ to do with the little black box in the cops' other pocket.

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