Watched Cops Are Polite Cops

How requiring police to wear video cameras will protect your constitutional rights.


Who will watch the watchers? What if all watchers were required to wear a video camera that would record their every interaction with citizens? In her ruling in a recent civil suit challenging the New York City police department's notorious stop-and-frisk rousting of residents, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin of the Federal District Court in Manhattan imposed an experiment in which the police in the city's precincts with the highest reported rates of stop-and-frisk activity would be required to wear video cameras for one year.

This is a really good idea. Earlier this year, a 12-month study by Cambridge University researchers revealed that when the city of Rialto, California, required its cops to wear cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers dropped by almost 60 percent. Watched cops are polite cops.

Jay Stanley, a policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), calls police-worn video cameras "a win/win for both the public and the police." Win/win because video recordings help shield officers from false accusations of abuse as well as protecting the public against police misconduct. The small cameras like the AXON Flex from Taser International attach to an officer's sunglasses, hat, or uniform.

In order to make sure that both the public and police realize the greatest benefits from body-worn video cameras, a number of policies need to be implemented. For example, police officers must be subject to stiff disciplinary sanctions if they fail to turn their cameras on each time they interact with the public. In addition, items obtained during an unrecorded encounter would be deemed a violation of the subject's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure and excluded as evidence, unless there were extenuating circumstances, such as a broken camera. Similarly, failure to record an incident for which a patrolman is accused of misconduct should create a presumption against that officer.

Officer-worn video cameras do have the potential to violate the privacy of citizens. After all, the police frequently are dealing with people when they are having one of the worst days of their lives. For instance, police often enter people's houses to investigate incidents. In such cases, video of someone's literal or metaphorical dirty laundry is nobody else's business. Consequently, Stanley argues that strong rules regarding the retention, use, and disclosure of videos from police-worn cameras must be established and enforced. For example, videos should be retained for no more than 30 to 60 days, unless flagged. Of course, if the video contains evidence of a crime it should be retained just as any other evidence would be. Flagging would also occur for any incident involving force or a citizen complaint. With the appropriate strong privacy protections in place, very little of police-recorded video would ever be retained or viewed.

Officers should also be required to notify people that they are being recorded. Some preliminary evidence suggests that both police and citizens behave better when they know that they are being recorded. Additionally, the police should not have discretion to release any video to the public. For example, police would be barred from "leaking" videos like that of the drunken actress Reese Witherspoon being arrested in Atlanta for disorderly conduct after a traffic stop. (For what it is worth, the Atlanta police department denies releasing the Witherspoon scene.) Anyone who is recorded, on the other hand, should have access to the video and they should be allowed to consent to public release. Subjects who are incidentally recorded should be blacked out or blurred if the video is released. (The ACLU's Stanley notes that video used as evidence in a public trial would likely be made available to the public.)

Besides those privacy concerns, what possible objections could there be to requiring every officer to wear a camera? Some contend that since practically every citizen can now record police activity using their cellphones, police-worn cameras will be unnecessary. But some states have made it illegal to record people in public without their consent, and the police are often adamant about enforcing that prohibition when the camera is turned on them. Even when the law does permit recording without consent, the police have, in some cases, confiscated a citizen's cellphone and allegedly erased inculpating video.

In addition, citizen recordings will often be incomplete or misleading. People typically start recording only after an encounter turns aggressive, so the context of what is happening is lost.

Won't police officers resist wearing video cameras? Initially perhaps, but most patrol officers are now becoming comfortable with dashboard cameras in their cruisers. A 2004 study for the International Association of the Chiefs of Police found that in cases where police misconduct was alleged, in-car video evidence exonerated officers 93 percent of the time. The same report further noted that dashboard cameras enhanced officer safety, improved agency accountability, reduced agency liability, simplified incident review, enhanced new recruit training, improved community perceptions, helped advance case resolution, and enhanced officer performance and professionalism. In fact, the Atlanta police officer in the Witherspoon dashcam video does come off as quite professional. Body-worn cameras will clearly augment all of those objectives.

The upshot of obliging police to wear video cameras is that it turns the tables on functionaries of the surveillance state. It gives citizens better protection against police misconduct and against violations of their constitutional rights. And it protects good cops against unfair accusations, too. Requiring police to wear video cameras should be universally adopted sooner rather than later.

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  1. This would be a boon for prosecutors. Criminals are stupid. They incriminate themselves all of the time. And you can’t beat the immediacy of a video tape. But Cops don’t want their misconduct revealed so it won’t happen.

    1. If this happened, I see double trials happening–one for the suspect, one for the cop. So it won’t happen.

      1. Everyone goes to jail! It’s the natural equilibrium state when everything is illegal and all interactions are monitored.

        1. Except, there’s the three felonies a day rule going — do you want those captured as evidence to be used against you?

          And what if the cameras are implemented WITHOUT any of the ACLU’s recommendations, so that we’d be subject to roving government cameras used mainly to incriminate citizens? Do you expect that the government would accept reforms that reduce their power?

          1. We need cameras for the cameras.

              1. Of course. Next up, banning yellow lights altogether!

            1. Yo Dawg, I heard you like cameras, so…

  2. I want politicians to be required to wear video and audio devices with 24 hour streaming on the internet.

    They want power, the public gets to watch how they use it.

    1. You just want to see Chuck Schumer in the shower, don’t you?

      1. Well, if it were attached to his head, it’s not like you could see anything below the moobs.

        1. The moobs are enough to induce catatonia in any normal human.

      2. Chuck Schemer bathes?????.

        1. Pretty sure Feinstein and Boxer give him a double team sponge bath. Extra sudsy.

    2. Or at least sponsor patches like NASCAR.

  3. The company I work for has a small division that deals with waste disposal. I was part of several meetings for an idea that someone had to add GPS to trucks, along with RFID reading of containers. Data – including trash weight & location was to be stored. The idea was to see how much trash was actually being picked up on a route, and (potentially) charge by weight.

    The Union truck drivers went apeshit when they got wind of this plan. Apparently picking up extra loads on the side makes a little extra $$$ for the drivers – plus the nap times or whatever else they get up to on their route.

    I can only imagine this X1000 for cops.

    1. I’m assuming pretty much this.

      I don’t think their objections, and the objections of their unions, are just because of the crimes they may be committing. It’s mainly because of the bullshit they do to fill a shift. A few hundred hours of chin to chest snoring, eating fast food, bullshiting with other cops and chatting up hookers will make it hard to justify their paychecks and pensions.

      1. When I read the police log in the newspaper and see a half a dozen to a dozen entries, the vast majority of which are warrants or probation violations, I have to wonder how the heck they can justify employing so many people.

        1. Probably to write traffic tickets and try to catch teenagers smoking pot.

      2. whatever it takes to go home safe

    2. I worked for a delivery company (of a specific product) and built their entire mobile device ordering system (the drivers would make the orders for the next delivery on their company issued mobile phone using my software). A bunch of the drivers fucking hated it, because it tracked them just by default, since it would send in the orders as soon as it could get a signal (they had no control of when it would send in orders once they were made). Some of them would write their orders down on paper and then do them all at the end of the day so as to avoid this.

      The cops, by and large, would hate being monitored the whole time. If a delivery man hates it, the cops will hate it a thousand times more, as you say.

      1. I have run into the same issue with several business automation systems. I had a bunch of sales execs keeping all of their leads on legal pads until they had a deal so that they would win bonuses for their closing ratio. Remarkably, their manager didn’t notice that a large group of his sales force suddenly had 90% fewer new leads coming in and had an amazing closing rate 8 times higher than the rest of the force (and out of all reasonable plausibility).

        Ah, good times….

        It turns out that even the dumbest of people are remarkably smart and resourceful when it comes to circumventing monitoring systems. I’m sure that this talent explains a fair number of the miraculous system malfunctions for video recordings of alleged police abuses. You really do have to design all of your systems and incentives with eyes wide open to the fact that people will do whatever they have to do to make those incentives work in their favor. Understanding what the real incentives that you are creating actually are is the toughest part of planning any management tools.

    3. All of the times they lie in court, all of the times they fuck off, pull over people and lie about their speed to meet the ticket quotas. Yeah, cops are never going to take this willingly.

      1. It sounds like what Ron is describing is that they would only have to turn the camera on while interacting with the public, so they could still have their naps and fantasy football in between. I agree that they still won’t go for it, though.

        1. Doesn’t help at all. When Officer Lardass only generates an hour of video per day of him interacting with the public, that can only be explained by (1) He’s violating policy on when to use his camera or (2) he’s goldbricking like a mofo.

          Either way, Officer Lardass loses.

      2. Make it a firing offense for a cop to confiscate a camera from a citizen. Period. No appeal.

        Then the cops will want video of their own in self defense.

  4. I can imagine a hefty 1% of cops are totally in favor of this.

  5. If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear… Officer.

    1. Okay, this was good and nobody gives it a +1 or something? Tough crowd.

  6. The only thing that can stop this from happening would be the police unions. Everyone else has incentive to see it happen. In a few years it will be the standard. (Video can always be “accidentally” erased.)

    1. In unrelated news, all doughnuts and associated baked goods will be required to include short-range EMP devices mixed into the dough.

    2. The dang things will malfunction so often that they’ll just scrap the idea altogether as a waste of money.

  7. In conjunction with the cameras,I want cops to wear shock collars controlled via teh interwebz by citizens observing their interactions with the population. You would presumably need some sort of threshold level of triggering inputs, so one malicious crank [*looks nervously over shoulder*] cannot just shock the shit out of random cops because he’s having a bad day.

    I think we all recognize cops are not as smart as lab rats, but we should give it a try.

    1. I like what you have to say and am interested in subscribing to your newsletter.

  8. A city near where I live just got one of those surplus APCs for their police department. Someone wrote a sarcastic letter to the editor marveling of how the Soviets would parade their military might on certain holidays, and talked of how he looked forward to the police parading their tanks down the street with smiling children looking on.
    So the mayor writes a scathing response talking of how it really is a war out there. That cops in some cities are facing ambushes with automatic weapons (I was like “Huh? I think I would have heard about that”) and that police need all the military tools they can get.
    I highly doubt that that mayor would include cameras in the list of tools.

    1. Someone wrote a sarcastic letter to the editor marveling of how the Soviets would parade their military might on certain holidays, and talked of how he looked forward to the police parading their tanks down the street with smiling children looking on.

      Nice. The question is why such an obvious lesson of history needs to even be pointed out or why the general population seems to ignore it. It’s not like they haven’t seen those goosestepping past Stalin/Hitler/Name your dictator newsreels. But apparently it is different when it’s in color and done in the name of fighting terrorists and drug dealers.

      1. Here’s a link to the letter.
        The mayor is off his meds.

        1. In many major cities, hardworking middle class minorities are held captive in their homes. Like war, the gangs/enemy always seem to control the night. Worse, many liberals excuse their behavior by labeling those thugs as victims of society.

          The city of Lewiston will continue to add any military surplus that is felt needed to ensure the safety of our citizens.

          Force will be met with greater force. That’s the Lewiston way.

          Jesus. This guy has seen Death Wish one too many times.

          What a pants shitting freak.

          1. Fucking Lewiston, Maine is a war zone? Is this guy shitting me?

        2. Oh my glob, some of the comments are insane


      2. “The question is why such an obvious lesson of history needs to even be pointed out or why the general population seems to ignore it”

        It is because this is Meruhka, can’t happen here because we are the greatest, most bestus country ever, you damn hippy.
        (sacrifices first born to Mars)

    2. That cops in some cities are facing ambushes with automatic weapons

      How often do cops get “ambushed” with any weapons? AFAICT, almost all violence committed against cops is during police-initiated encounters (which is still [usually] wrong, of course, but that’s beside the point).

    3. “That cops in some cities are facing ambushes with automatic weapons’

      He didn’t say US cops are being ambushed with automatic weapons, he was being more inclusive than that and including cops in Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

    4. You should have been nicer in the sarcastic letter “someone” wrote.

  9. Pretty much anyone that has authority over the public should be monitored. Cops, Teachers, inspection officers, CPS, Judges, parole officers.

    1. And they will never allow it. Because it would take away the majority of their arbitrary power, which is why they went into the job in the first place.

      The parasite will never agree to the medication which will kill it.

      1. Maybe we should plant microcameras on all of them without their knowledge.

        1. Have them all go in for “dental work” or a “routine checkup” and implant whatever we want.

          Is nanotech far enough along that we could put it in someone and be able to record their every movement?

  10. OK, someone clue me in… who is that handsome police officer in the article pic? Just a stock photo or is that from a police show?

      1. Ah OK. For a moment I thought it was Mark-Paul Gosselaar.

        Oh Zack Morris, why do you continue to haunt my inner teenage self…?

        1. I have no idea what that means

          1. Then you’re not an 80s child.


  11. In sales and other call center scenarios managers record all interactions with the public. These recordings can be used to rebut claims of fraud or misconduct by the public, or to enforce a contract or other parallels to the police dash cam scenario.

    But they are most often used as training tools for the managers. They’ll monitor their employees interactions and grade them on things like attitude, proper upselling, etc. There are even automated tools that will monitor the tone and content of phone calls and issue reports.

    This would be a huge boon to the police force, who currently have no meaningful way of monitoring and training their employees while in the field. I have a buddy who is a Lieutenant for Miami-Dade. He supervises over 50 people and basically has to do it based on productivity measures like arrests, contact reports and complaints. He also gets to hear from each of the squad leaders about their teams, but there really is no way to put up an interaction with the public and say “See, this is a really good example of how to get a statement. Good job!” or “See where you grab the 14 year old kid by the throat and threaten to kick his ass? That’s where you went wrong…”

  12. Congrats to Ron on a 20:20 piece.

  13. uptil I looked at the draft for $9175, I be certain that my cousin was like realey making money in there spare time at there computar.. there neighbour started doing this 4 only twentey months and resently cleard the debts on their mini mansion and bourt a great new Alfa Romeo. why not try this out w?ww.w??rk25.???m

  14. uptil I looked at the draft for $9175, I be certain that my cousin was like realey making money in there spare time at there computar.. there neighbour started doing this 4 only twentey months and resently cleard the debts on their mini mansion and bourt a great new Alfa Romeo. why not try this out w?ww.w??rk25.???m

  15. Are polite cops necessarily good cops? That remains to be seen, but we might as well give in to more cameras in the workplace of every profession – that certainly seems to be the direction that we are headed.

    1. Polite cops may not be good cops, but I’ll bet a rude cop is a thug who abuses his power.

    2. Since cops have no problem recording citizens, then fairness demands they should have no problem being recorded themselves. It’ll go a long way to stop abuse. Aren’t the police supposed to protect and serve? …

  16. Honestly, I know I’m going to sound naive, but I can’t for the life of me understand why good police officers wouldn’t WANT something like this. You would think the ability to document that they followed proper procedures would be valuable.

  17. I think you guys forgot to say anything about where a Judge gets the right to make police wear anything.

  18. til I saw the draft which said $9882, I did not believe that…my… best friend was like they say actualie bringing in money part-time at there labtop.. there moms best frend haz done this 4 less than 20 months and just now paid for the debts on their villa and bought a great Honda. webpage w?ww.w??rk25.???m

  19. my classmate’s step-sister makes $81/h hourly on the internet. She has been out of a job for 6 months but last month her pay was $20391 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on this site…


  20. that both the public and police realize the greatest benefits from body-worn

  21. her ruling in a recent civil suit challenging the New York City police department’s notorious

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