Electronic Surveillance: Turn On Cameras When Police Tasers Are Turned On
As people on the receiving end of police Tasering began to sue, Taser added cameras to it’s Tasers to document incidents. However, that turned out to be a less than ideal solution, according to a recent Forbes article:
Taser has been selling video cameras since 2006, when it started putting them on its weapons to provide evidence for then-rampant lawsuits against overzealous police officers. Unfortunately Taser-mounted cams mostly just provided a highlight reel of people being tased. “We realized we needed to put them on the officers instead,” says Smith.
Taser and competitor Vievu sell cameras to police departments and the results so far have been positive, both in documenting police-citizen incidents, and in reducing the number of incidents and citizen complaint of police behavior. Police apparently are more polite when they know they are being recorded.
Kashmir Hill, author of the Forbes article, reports the “shocking” improvement caused by electronic surveillance of police:
[T]he few studies on the effect of body cameras show a significant reduction in citizen complaints. In partnership with Cambridge University, the police department in Rialto, Calif., using cameras from Taser, found that in the first year, 2012, use-of-force incidents by officers declined 60% and citizen complaints against police fell 88%. …
Another one-year study by the Mesa Police Department found that 50 camera-wearing officers had a third as many complaints as those without them and that those officers had 75% fewer use-of-force complaints than in the prior year. “Cameras are game changers,” says Smith. “It’s a non-lethal weapon. The average rational person, when you tell them you’re filming them, will act more rationally.”
Next step is a new upgrade that reduces the chances electronic surveillance will be turned off by police to avoid recording what is about to happen:
Taser is trying to make its cameras more attractive than Vievu’s by engineering solutions to human fallibility, namely cops forgetting to turn them on or turning them off when they shouldn’t. Taser’s cameras catch a continuous 30-second video buffer, so that an officer captures the half-minute that preceded the start of a recording. Its software keeps activity logs that a supervisor can review to determine whether a camera ran out of batteries or was manually turned off. Other companies require a deeper forensics dive to get that information. In October Taser announced a feature that remotely activates cameras in a 30-foot radius based on triggers such as a cop car’s lights being switched on.
According to this Fast Company article calls for wider use of police cameras have increased since the violence in Ferguson, Missouri:
Over 145,000 people have signed a whitehouse.gov petition in support of a proposed “Mike Brown Law,” requiring all police officers to wear a camera.
However, recording all police interactions with the public creates a record of incidents that then can be subject to later Freedom of Information (FOI) requests:
“The use of these cameras has the potential to lead to real invasions of privacy,” says Stanley. “For example, a significant proportion of police calls are for domestic violence. Police often walk into people’s homes and catch them at some of the worst moments of their lives. We don’t want to see video of bad moments of people’s lives being circulated or going up on the Internet in situations where it has no public importance.”
Some of the policies Stanley and the ACLU are urging be adopted include: granting people who have been recorded access to that footage for as long as the government has it, not recording in homes without the permission of a resident, and requiring officers to notify individuals when they are recording.
Komo News reports on the problem in Influx of records requests may force police to drop body cams. Bremerton police have been wearing body cameras for a year and results they say are positive, however:
But last month reality hit, in the form of a new YouTube user website, set up by someone under the name, “Police Video Requests.” The profile says it posts dash and body cam videos received after public records requests to Washington state police departments. There are just a couple of police videos there posted within the past week.
People can set up user accounts and if there are enough subscribers and page views they can make money — think of crazy animal videos. But in this case, it’s videos of people the police have stopped or interacted with for one reason or another.