Eric Garner

Body Cameras for Police Are a Powerful Tool, Not a Cure-All

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Shoot film, not suspects
Vievu

Eric Garner's choking death at the hands of New York City police was filmed. Yet the public distribution of the video was not enough to secure an indictment against Officer Daniel Pantaleo. The result has led to concerns that maybe mounting cameras on police is not going to be the fix some people think it is. Here's what Nia-Malika Henderson at The Washington Post had to say about it and President Barack Obama's push for funding for more body cameras for police:

The use of body cameras by police officers could certainly make them police themselves more and have the same effect on people they interact with. But they don't seem to have increased the chances of discipline when it comes to Garner, whose death was ruled a homicide.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said that he plans to request federal funding for body cameras. It's unclear whether Obama, who has made the most high-profile push for body cameras, will get congressional support for his proposal.

But the videotaped death of Garner and the failure to get an indictment will likely be used by activists to push for much more than just cameras.

Henderson notes the heavily distributed statistics from Rialto, California, after they fitted their officers with body cameras two years ago. Incidences of use of force by police and complaints against police plunged the year after they were put into use. Nevertheless that filming of abuse didn't help in Garner's case (nor did it help in Kelly Thomas' case) and that police may turn them off or try to shield video from public access has introduced a "Is the case for body cameras now damaged?" narrative—and some frustrated tweets.

But that question really only makes sense if you confuse tools for solutions and transparency for accountability. No, having visual documentation of police misbehavior won't guarantee the officer in question will be punished. But there is no technology that will guarantee that outcome. Even Minority Report-style psychic powers or precognition skills could not guarantee that a police officer will be punished for injustices. All the tools provide is information. The only way police will be held responsible for misbehavior will be through the actions of actual human beings, through whatever system of judgment we use. No technology can make people hold others in position of power responsible.

By the same token, transparency is not the same as accountability; rather it is a mechanism used to get the information to hold people accountable. Even if the Obama Administration's claims to be the "most transparent administration ever" weren't a massive, absurd lie, the failure of the administration to hold its people responsible for the poor conduct or incompetence that we do know of is a reminder that "transparency," like a body camera, is a tool, not a solution.

Two other thoughts, both fairly obvious: It's going to be impossible to document the abuse that doesn't happen because of the existence of body cameras, thus the emphasis on those statistics from Rialto. Pointing to one or two cases where police abuse was filmed and not punished as an indictment and denial of all the other benefits is not logical or well thought-out (and I've succumbed to such responses myself in the Thomas case).  If one of the goals is to discourage bad behavior from the police (and citizens they're interacting with), we need to focus on those statistics, not point to individual cases and then throw our hands up in the air about it. If body cameras result in fewer cases of police abuse it is an undeniable good, even if filming didn't help Garner or bring the officer to justice.

Second, consider the difference in responses to the grand jury verdict in Garner's case compared to many other cases of police killing unarmed citizens that weren't caught on film. How much coverage have all those other cases gotten in comparison? Would Attorney General Eric Holder come out and give a speech promising a federal investigation if Garner's death hadn't been caught on film? Would there even be a federal investigation if not for the video? How much different would the protests had been and how much coverage would they have gotten if Garner's death hadn't been caught on film? Now imagine what could potentially happen culturally if every single fatal police encounter (remember, there were more than 400 last year) was caught on film and shown to the public. It's easy to say that the trend of police protection will continue because that's how it's been for decades, but look at the responses to the grand jury decision. The typical liberal-conservative divide on police authority is just not there (not as pronounced anyway). This would not be happening if not for video. Reforming police behavior is going to be slow. Very, very slow. But given the amount of power and discretion both civic leaders and the courts have given police, it won't happen at all without the assistance of transparency provided by body cameras.

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92 responses to “Body Cameras for Police Are a Powerful Tool, Not a Cure-All

  1. OT — Clayton deputy shot during prostitution sting

    The GBI has identified the man arrested for allegedly shooting a Clayton County sheriff’s deputy in the leg during an overnight prostitution sting as Raymond Hamm.

    Deputies were working a vice operation around 10 p.m. Wednesday at the Villages on the River apartment complex when Hamm, 25, “arrived on the scene, pulled a handgun and shot one of the deputies in the leg,” GBI spokeswoman Sherry Lang said.

    “Deputies returned fire but did not hit Hamm,” Lang said. “Hamm fled, but was arrested a short time later near the scene.”

    Lang said Hamm is being held in the Henry County Jail.

    The wounded deputy, whose name has not been released, was taken to Atlanta Medical Center for treatment of injuries that are not believed to be life-threatening, Lang said.

    http://www.ajc.com/news/news/c…..ing/njLTh/

    1. Hamm Plugs Porker, Pigs Miss Hamm?

      1. OMFG. You win the internetz.

      2. Brav-fucking-o

    2. I used to live in Clayton county, still go there for work about 3 days a month. The cops there really should have better things to do.

    3. So I’m guessing not so much of a “sting” as a “cop got shot while fucking a hooker.”

  2. The cure all:

    1. Less government.
    2. Fewer laws.
    3. Fewer cops.
    4. MOAR LIBERTY!

    1. That’s just crazy talk. A few more laws, another couple of bureaucracies to watch each other, and a big pile of money for trinkets and training will fix it. This time. Pinky swear.

    2. So we need a new law headed by a Freedom Czar to impose less government and more freedom.

      1. “Freedom Czar”

        I was going to laugh, but I realized someone in the current Administration might take that seriously…

        1. ‘Freedom Czar’ is just the nom de plume of the Secretary of Homeland Security – also referred to as the Minstry of Liberty and Love.

          The ‘Love Czar’ is, of course, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
          http://www.bop.gov/about/agency/bio_dir.jsp

  3. Here’s what Nia-Malika Henderson at The Washington Post had to say about it and President Barack Obama’s push for funding for more body cameras for police:

    Yes, the solution to too much government is MOAR government.

    Makes perfect sense…if you’re in government.

  4. Body cameras for police — necessary — not sufficient.

    1. Exactly what I was going to post.

      Sufficient, unfortunately, encompasses a large cultural change in our society.

      I’m not optimistic.

      1. I’m not optimistic.

        I am.

        The police…making new libertarians…EVERY DAY!

      2. In one other threads, I asked if a police state could be undone without a revolution. Some of the optimists proposed natural disaster as a way to remove a police state. But revolution remains the most likely option.

        Wide spread distribution over every fucking second the police interacts with the public is necessary to starting that revolution.

        1. I asked if a police state could be undone without a revolution.

          I assume you mean an armed revolution.

          I think it can, but it requires a very large consensus among the population, which will be extremely difficult to achieve. And this is why I support groups and politicians whose aim is to gradually forward the cause of liberty through the education of the ignorant masses.

          If I recall correctly, less than 30% of the Colonists supported the American Revolution. That makes a peaceful solution a long row to hoe. But I see a glimmer of hope lately. Not sure it will be enough or if any gains will be merely lip service?

          1. I assume you mean an armed revolution.

            That is an unnecessary assumption.

            See revolution, velvet.

    2. Stupid question, maybe, because I haven’t read all the details, or even the superficial stuff very carefully: When Shackford says, “the public distribution of the video was not enough to secure an indictment against Officer Daniel Pantaleo,” isn’t this query arising from a non sequitur? First, what did the “public” distribution have to do with what the grand jury decided? But maybe more importantly, and this is a real question, does anyone know if the grand jury even saw entire video? With the sound on? Unedited. Without tendentious commentary from the DA’s office? If the grand jury was manipulated or misled, then the question isn’t about the persuasiveness of the video evidence. The question about about the usefulness of cameras is missing the point, isn’t it?

      1. It lets us know the the grand jury saw the same video that the public did, which was pretty fucking bad.

        1. In it’s entirety, unedited, with the sound on, etc.? If so, the next question is about the DA’s “framing” that might have went on before, during and after the video.

        2. Not necessarily…

          Prosecutor: Have you seen the Garner video?

          GJ potential Member: No.

          Prosecutor: Good, you can set on this GJ.

  5. You know who else called for the use of a powerful tool…

      1. Your mom’s mom?

    1. Epi’s mom?

    2. Ron Jeremy

      1. Ron Jeremy’s mom?

    3. Warty?

      1. Warty’s egg sack he hatched from?

    4. The correct answer was:

      Tim Allen’s Mom.

      1. Doh! I was so close.

    5. Black and/or Decker?

  6. Why bother to collect evidence you have no intention of using?

    1. Well they could use it as a training tool. Or method analysis.

      1. “See how much that hurt! Remember that one, Rookie!”

    2. What do you mean? That evidence will most certainly be used. For example a call takes them to a residence and the officer has the opportunity to film the inside of someone’s living space. You can bet that the film will be carefully scrutinized for any possible excuse to launch a SWAT raid on the home. Rolling papers lying around or something. Yeah. It will be used. Just not against the police.

      1. Meh, they’ll do that anyway.

      2. I was thinking they’d upload it to a powerful AI, that would review it for things to steal/confiscate at a later date.

    3. Why bother to collect evidence you have no intention of using?

      Just because you have no intention of using it doesn’t mean every other government agency doesn’t!

  7. If the Garner discussion is moving up here, here’s one point I’d like to add:

    Remember Garner when feminists demand new laws against “catcalling”.

    Because if the feminists get their way on that, it makes it inevitable that we will see black men choked to death for saying Good Morning to white women on the street.

    That’s the progressive vision. That’s what they’re offering.

    1. Neo-lynchings.

    2. Ties in nicely to Inspaundit’s observation that “To Kill a Mockingbird” supports “rape culture.”

      The sine qua non of lynchings was going after blacks who were uppity with white women. And that’s exactly what the feminists are demanding with their laws against catcalling.

  8. we will see black men choked to death for saying Good Morning to white women on the street.

    But what about the Constitutional right of white women to never feel discomfited, smart guy?

  9. NEEDZ MOAR SPENDS

    Money is just like pixie dust. Sprinkle liberally, and your troubles magically disappear.

  10. The Onion wins the Internet with this one:

    Obama Calls For Turret-Mounted Video Cameras On All Police Tanks

    http://www.theonion.com/articl…..:1:Default

    1. The sad part is that The Onion’s satire piece might as well be exactly what’s happened.

  11. A body cam that a cop is aware he’s wearing (theoretically) has a different effect than some schmuck on the street making an impromptu cell phone recording. No, it’s still not a cure all, but the Garner case doesn’t really speak to the power of the body cam in preventing the abuse from occurring, not prosecution after the fact.

    1. It seems like the police at the Garner incident knew the guy was filming. Given how close he was and how long he was there before any of it went down, I would be surprised if they didn’t know.

  12. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) said that he plans to request federal funding for body cameras.

    A rich commie in a rich city wants a handout? That’s rich.

  13. I want to give cops body cams, but I want to insert them rectally without regard to their pleas otherwise.

  14. Hate to repost comments, but in this case it’s even more apropos to this specific thread.

    Consider:

    Under the current regs, the cop was fully justified in harassing Eric Gardner. If Eric Gardner resisted arrest or correction (as he did), the officer was free to use force commensurate with obtaining Gardner’s cooperation. In this incident, there would be a minor change — from a lethal chokehold to a tazing or some time in county jail. Reviewing a tape of a perfectly legal action on the part of a cop will not help if cops simply default to a lower (but still unjustified and wrong) level of force in their harassments. It probably doesn’t move many bad cops off the force, unless those cops have no ability to modify their level of harassment. Additionally, the bad cops will eventually find ways around the cameras (as with any security system); the goal of reform should therefore be to make it so that less bad cops permeate the environs and bodycams do not accomplish this goal.

    Bodycams are a good item of reform in a general police/criminal justice reform, but so long as cops are required to enforce victimless crimes to a high degree and are given latitude in the force they use to achieve compliance, we will see very similar results as now.

    1. “Under the current regs, the cop was fully justified in harassing Eric Gardner.”

      I actually wonder about this. There’s been a lot made of this illegal cigarette claim, but I haven’t heard a single thing about why the police thought he was selling illegal cigarettes. He apparently didn’t have any on him and the guy on the cell phone video keeps saying the cops showed up because Garner just broke up a fight. So what was the PC for this illegal cigarette stuff?

      1. The illegal cigarette stuff is purely a red herring, as far as I can tell. Yes, Garner had in the past gotten into legal trouble for selling cigarettes illegally. But he wasn’t doing it on the day the cops showed up, and it had nothing to do directly with why the cops decided to take him down that day.

    2. Bodycams are still a good idea as the Rio Alto results make clear.

  15. People Who Are Not Helping:

    James Yeager of Tactical Response threatens to start killing people if AR-15s are banned by executive order. This was in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. He walked back his comments later.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cn9kDM2qrSc

  16. Possible solution:

    How bouts we get rid of like 2/3rds of the cops. And then the remaining cops will be forced to concentrate on real crime like murder, robbery, rape…

    OR, better yet:

    We get rid of all victimless crimes and then get rid of 90% of the cops. The remaining 10% can focus on real crime, the cost to the taxpayer is slashed to the absolute minimum and the citizenry becomes more free in the process.

    1. So you’re saying you’re soft on crime, eh?

      1. I’m soft on victimless crime.

        1. Society is the victim you monster!

        2. The thought of committing victimless crime gets me hard.

    2. You want to allow children to ride bicycles without helmets, and not be accosted and ticketed by the police?

      YOU MONSTER!

    3. Sadly, Francisco, police (generally) make up less than 10% of any given county’s budget.

      That other 90% is welfare.

      1. So cutting 9% of a city’s budget wouldn’t be a windfall to the taxpayer? I’ll take a 9% tax cut, for starters.

      2. Source?

        1. On the one hand, the City of Cleveland does not seem to spend much on obvious forms of welfare. I don’t even think it adds up to 5% of their expenditures from the “general fund”.

          On the other hand, the City of San Francisco spends quite a bit more. It looks like welfare accounts for 20-25% of their expenditures. If you exclude water and other services funded by user fees, as Cleveland does, the percentage would likely be much higher.

          A lot of other expenditures could qualify as welfare, directly or indirectly, but 90% seems to be quite an exaggeration for dedicated, explicit welfare services.

    4. real crime

      I dislike that term. Whether I like it or not, the legislature gets to decide and define crime. The cognitive dissonance comes when a legislature outlaws, say, 5 gallon toliet.

      IMHO, that this is actually a law shows the udder failure of the constitution to reign in the federal government because my shit isn’t any of their business. But most americans are too fucking stupid to distinguish malum in se vs malum in prohibitum and are more than willing let the pigs summarily execute plebes over both.

      IMHO, I feel no compulsion, other than not getting anally raped, at disobeying malum in prohibitum laws.

      1. compulsion in obeying…..duh….

      2. IMHO, that this is actually a law shows the udder failure…

        Wait, first we’re talking about pigs, and now cows? I missed something in between.

        1. Just making sure you were paying attention.

      3. I draw a distinction between legislation and law.

        Law is something that people in society follow, regardless of whether it is legislated or not. People in society who ignore non-legislated law, for example people who move the jacket you laid on a seat to reserve it so they can sit there, are called assholes.

        When legislation is largely ignored by society, like legislation prohibiting the use of marijuana, then it really isn’t law. And the people who enforce it are called assholes.

        1. Law is something that people in society follow, regardless of whether it is legislated or not

          True. I like that comparison. And this truism negates the “what, you wan’t murder to be legal?” canard. That never happens. Even in the most primitive of tribes, I would bet, there are rules (like not murdering or stealing) that you live buy even if they are not put down on pieces of paper. And disobeying those rules/laws will get you expelled or killed.

          1. If you get a chance you may find this interesting.

            1. That chick? who did the introduction? needs to join Toastmasters? and take a speechifyin class, like, stat? Like, totally?

            2. okee dokee

          2. First udder, and now buy

            At first I thought you were covering your ass with the “just making sure you were paying attention” comment, but now I’m not sure if it isn’t really on purpose.

            1. Nope, the buy is a mistake. I take responsibility for that one.

    5. Get rid of all vice crimes. After that, get rid of all beat cops/patrol cops. The only real jobs in police work are detectives and CSIs, and they only show up after the fact. A healthy 2A with a generally armed populace are the best preventatives, not a fat fuck napping in his patrol car.

      A girl can dream, right?

      1. I disagree about beat/patrol cops. Not all police work is after the fact. Sometimes a crime can be in progress, and a nearby beat cop can do something about it. For example a gang of thugs could be stomping someone, and a cop could intervene.
        Without vice legislation on the books, cops could actually be helpful by, you know, serving and protecting.
        As it is they see every interaction with the members of the public, even crime victims, as an opportunity to bust someone for a victimless crime. That makes them not helpful in the slightest.

        1. For example a gang of thugs could be stomping someone, and a cop could intervene piss his/her pants and panic fire into the crowd.

          Cops these days are not mentally equipped to deal with actual crimes in progress. Like Columbine, for example.

          1. That’s because today’s cops are in the business of busting people for victimless crimes, while largely ignoring crime victims.
            If they were in the business of actually helping crime victims instead of looking at them as potential busts, then they might actually be equipped to deal with crimes in progress.

            1. I don’t see the pants-shitting-in-the-face-of-real-crime culture changing at all with the elimination of vice. You’d still have the same pussies. You’d have to fire everyone and start recruitment from scratch.

              1. Victimless crimes give cops the power to arbitrarily fuck with anyone, because anyone could be guilty of a victimless crime.

                Most cops would quit if they could no longer go around fucking with people for no good reason.

                With no victimless crimes on the books, their only work would be responding to crimes with, you know, actual victims.

                That is honorable work that would attract honorable men and women. Unlike the dishonorable people attracted to a job that lets them fuck with people and then use violence when people don’t like it.

        2. Sure, that can, and certainly does, happen. But there are only 780,000 cops in this country and over 316,000,000 people. The chances a cop is going to happen to be there when a violent or property crime is going down is vanishingly small.

          1. I’ve seen cops break up fights before. It happens.

            1. I admitted it happens. I’ve also seen non-cops break up fights. The question is whether the benefit of the small possibility a cop will be there to stop a crime in progress is worth the carnage they cause in other circumstances.

              1. Like I said in my 2:43 post – if there were no victimless crimes for them to enforce, then I believe the caliber of the people who seek the job would greatly improve.

  17. In a court of law, video evidence is tantramar to the truth.

  18. Policing is only going to change if voters want it to change. And voters are only going to want it to change if they see evidence that there is something wrong. That’s why police cameras matter.

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