Cameras

FBI Director Blames 'Viral Videos' for Rising Murder Rates

James Comey says watched cops are not aggressive enough.

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Senate Judiciary Committee

Yesterday FBI Director James Comey reiterated his argument that fear of ending up in a "viral video" has made police less aggressive, saying the phenomenon "could well be at the heart" of rising murder rates in some cities. Comey told reporters "there's a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime—the getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, 'Hey, what are you doing here?'" 

Comey admitted he had no solid evidence that police have in fact become less aggressive or that, if they have, it has anything to do with increases in violent crime. And although he said his understanding of the situation is based on conversations with police officers, his comments drew a rebuke from James Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. "He ought to stick to what he knows," Pasco told The New York Times. "He's basically saying that police officers are afraid to do their jobs with absolutely no proof."

Nor is Comey's argument plausible, at least not the way he presents it. If it is simply good policing to ask a group of guys hanging out at 2 a.m. what they're up to, why would such an encounter be the stuff of a viral video? To attract a lot of negative attention online, the cop would have to do more than that. If he treated these (most likely) young black men disrespectfully, refusing to accept their explanations and insisting that they disperse under threat of arrest, that might do it. The incident also might get some attention if the cop tried to stop someone from recording it or used unnecessary violence, especially if that violence resulted in serious injury or death. But assuming that "marginal additional policing" is legal, effective, and unobjectionable, why would the possibility that it might be recorded lead to less of it?

Even if the problem Comey perceives were real, it's not clear what he wants to do about it, and the possibilities are unsettling. Courts and police departments across the country have recognized that Americans have a First Amendment right to record police officers as they perform their official duties in public, provided they do not interfere with the officers' work. But Comey's argument implies that recording cops is inherently disruptive because it has a chilling effect on perfectly appropriate and necessary policing activities. So even if a bystander with a cellphone is not, say, standing too close or intimidating witnesses, his very presence contributes to crime by instilling a fear of online ignominy in the hearts of brave yet easily cowed police officers. If so, dashcam videos recorded by the police themselves create the same hazard.

Another way to look at it, of course, is that watched cops are better cops. The knowledge that they might be recorded does have a deterrent effect, but in a good way: It deters quick tempers, recklessness, excessive force, illegal searches, and trumped-up charges. Furthermore, a video record can vindicate cops who are falsely accused of such abuses. In short, it is hard to see why conscientious cops would worry that their interactions with members of the public might be recorded, any more than conscientious blackjack dealers or bank tellers would. If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear.

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  2. And explicit music makes people join gangs and video games cause sexism.

    The eternal serach for a scapegoat grinds on.

  3. In short, it is hard to see why conscientious cops would worry that their interactions with members of the public might be recorded, any more than conscientious blackjack dealers or bank tellers would.

    Conscientious cops? That’s a joke, right?

  4. I thought murderers caused murders?

    1. Pretty sure it’s violent video games.

  5. Completely uneducated guess: A rise in the murder rates correlates to the decreased opportunities to seek justice in civilized courts. When citizens are locked out of the market for justice, they’ll seek it outside the controlled market.

    And what fear? Cops have nothing to fear from viral video. Nothing ever happens.

    1. That’s the crux of it all if you ask me. If bad cops who are proven do have done bad things and would be prosecuted, jailed, lose their jobs AND pensions for their actions, it would go a long way to alleviating public trust and disgust.

      It’s not necessarily the action the problem; it’s the cover up and lack of accountability.

      Amazing how this seems to be ignored.

      1. Amazing how this seems to be ignored.

        Not really. Think about it. For many people the idea of police abuse being cultural, rather than a series of isolated incidents, is terrifying. They trust their government and they trust their police, so the idea that these people are not deserving of that trust would shatter their view of the world. Because of that it isn’t surprising at all that police abuse is treated as actions of bad apples, instead of the rotten bunch that it actually is.

  6. Courts and police departments across the country have recognized that Americans have a First Amendment right to record police officers as they perform their official duties in public, provided they do not interfere with the officers’ work.

    Emphasis added. A lotta guys get nervous when they’re being recorded, though.

    1. Too bad.

  7. It’s like one step forward, two steps back with this guy. How can someone that refuses to validate Clinton’s claim that the FBI is merely conducting a “security review” be the same guy that says a video of a cop “getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?'” is a cause of increasing homicide rates?

    1. He’s a law and order type. Emphasis on order.

    2. The two are consistent if you see him not as a defender of legal principles but instead of the agency he represents and other agencies he works closely with.

      His own people want to see Clinton punished because if they did the things she did, they would be punished. However, they don’t want new rules on their own behavior, either.

  8. Disturbing moment police are caught on camera ‘beating a suspect as he surrenders’ following 100mph chase

    Man wanted on several warrants failed to stop for cops in Massachusetts
    Then led officer on chase into New Hampshire driving at up to 100mph
    He was eventually cornered in Nashua before deciding to give himself up
    News helicopter captured moment officers appeared to assault him
    Two cops seem to hit the man in the head as he lays on the ground

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new…..chase.html

    Here we have cops assaulting someone as they surrender, and it’s on video. Will anything happen to the criminal cops? No. Of course not. So this guy’s premise is complete horse shit.

    1. Bystanders in the vicinity of that arrest would have been wholly justified in resorting to lethal force in defense of the suspect. They’re savaging him for no reason whatsoever.

      1. Morally justified, yes. However they would spend the rest of their lives in prison for doing so, assuming the officers sent to arrest them didn’t murder them.

  9. Any mechanism which lessens police officers’ propensity for violent misconduct, regardless of type, is beneficial and desirable in every way. LEOs must be held accountable for their misdeeds, and if that becomes practically unlikely to occur (which it has, considering how rarely cops face consequences for criminal behavior), disincentivizing thuggish antics by recording every encounter with law enforcement is always going to be a just and advisable thing to do.

    The Director’s an asshat.

    1. Which should tell you something very important. Cops don’t work for you; they are there to keep the trash away from the elites. So unless you are rich or part of the political class then cops aren’t your friends

      1. Being rich by itself doesn’t mean the cops will be any less dickish. It all comes down to connections. If you’re poor with connections, then the cops are your friends. If you’re rich without connections, say your prayers.

  10. When have the police ever prevented a crime. Between eating donuts, messing around with underage girls and looking for ways to liberate you from your money by writing tickets when do they have time to protect and serve. Besides a percentage of cops have always been assholes and until smartphones came along you just could not prove it. Remember if you hire the local high school football star to be a cop in small town America you are probably going to get a stupid bully with an attitude and gun. And probably a Trump supporter.

    1. Making police enforce bullshit laws and essentially become fine enforcers of minor crime like not having your vehicle as up-to-date in government fees as they might like couldn’t have anything to do with people’s opinion of them I’m sure. The body that creates law has incredibly poor approval ratings, why would the agency responsible for enforcing their bullshit have any higher approval?

      Personally, I know plenty of awesome and decent cops. I know the bad ones are almost certainly a minority, but the fact that people in that position have a lot of authority obviously means they should also have more accountability. That’s how authority should work, but unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be how it actually works in the minds of some ‘top men’.

      I don’t have a problem with police, I have a problem with unaccountable police. Of course, I also have a problem with all the various types of Police. Everything from the TSA, to the ATFE, FBI, Homeland Security, I mean the list goes on and on. How many different kinds of police does America really need anyway?

  11. “Comey admitted he had no solid evidence that police have in fact become less aggressive or that, if they have, it has anything to do with increases in violent crime.”

    But even the possibility that it might is enough to warrant making sure our Officers are in no way, shape, or form accountable! I mean, just the chance that our officers might be less inclined to smash your skull in is enough of a justification to take their word as gospel and remove any possibility of outside verification of the facts!

    After all, there are no instances whatsoever of one of these ‘police films’ showing an officer doing anything other than being a Jesus-like person who does nothing except benefit society with their selfless sacrifices! They aren’t even paid guys!

    /sarc

  12. Short version: The director of the FBI is an idiot.

  13. The irony being that his own video productions increase crime.

  14. re: cops getting out of the car at 2am and asking guys what they’re doing.

    Well, maybe it wouldn’t be viral if Barney Fife moved on when those guys tell him that what they’re doing is none of his damned business. But, it does go viral when he proceeds to beat the shit out of them for contempt-of-cop.

    They aren’t obligated to tell him anything. Barring any specific laws (curfew?), they aren’t obligated to disperse.

    In the context of many cases of excessive force by police, I would think that “less aggressive” is a good thing. Maybe instead of being aggressive, they should stop for a second and figure out if something is illegal.

  15. If half the laws now on the books for things that should have never been part of the legal system were done away with, then law enforcement would have more time to deal with crimes that should be enforced. Moreover, if law enforcement wasn’t consistently under the gun to make more arrest in order to fill the coffers of government in order to pay for the all encompassing bureaucracy the continually grows and grows, then law enforcement wouldn’t feel the need to make arrest, that in some cases are unwarranted arrest that turn ugly, and cost the government more than they would have gained, even if the arrest was warranted.

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