Police officers generally insist that they are the biggest fans of being recorded. A PoliceOne explainer on how cops can beat a lawsuit that I've highlighted before stresses the important of having footage of an incident that may later be called into question. Video evidence, police instructor Richard Weinblatt wrote, "should actually be welcomed, as the majority of officers do what they are supposed to do and thus will be cleared by the video from any allegations of wrongdoing."
What does it say then that members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) have reportedly tampered with audio recording equipment? Nearly half the recording antennas in one division, the Southeast, actually went missing. Ars Technica explains:
The antennas, which are mounted onto individual patrol cars, receive recorded audio captured from an officer's belt-worn transmitter. The transmitter is designed to capture an officer's voice and transmit the recording to the car itself for storage. The voice recorders are part of a video camera system that is mounted in a front-facing camera on the patrol car. Both elements are activated any time the car's emergency lights and sirens are turned on, but they can also be activated manually.
The Los Angeles Times reports that LAPD chief Charlie Beck found out about the issue last summer but chose not to try to track down the vandal cops. Instead, according to the Times, the department issued general warnings that cops should not "meddle" with the equipment. The Police Commission, an oversight body, blew the whistles on the apparent malfeasance this week, but Beck denied any wrongdoing, claiming that his failure to notify the Police Commission about the problem earlier was simply "unintentional."
The lack of interest in identifying the officers who effectively destroyed city equipment certainly contributes to the impression that police officers in the U.S. are not held responsible for wrongdoing. A recent Reason-Rupe poll found nearly half of respondents agreeing that cops weren't generally held accountable for their actions. The poll also found a whopping 88 percent of respondents supporting the recording of police officers in public.
Recording cops also makes informed skepticism and criticism of police actions more possible. Police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, for example, shot a homeless camper in an incident caught on a helmet cam. That footage helped spark protests in a city that has one of the deadliest police departments in the country.
That right is protected in many states—Illlinois' Supreme Court recently overturned the country's most draconian anti-recording law—but even in those places, police have been known to disregard the law and target those who legally record them anyway. Such an incident recently cost the City of Baltimore $250,000. The city didn't have to accept responsibility for the officers' actions, and the officers were not fired for breaking the law. Instead, as usual, they'll get more "training."
Read Ron Bailey's column about why watched cops make for polite cops here, and watch a Reason TV interview with an ex-cop who agrees below: