Who watches the watchers when they aren’t wearing their lapel cameras? And, what does it matter if the reviewers have no authority?
Those two questions are at the heart of a scandal that’s been raging in
Cops in the city are supposed to wear small video cameras on their lapels or helmets to record traffic stops, foot chases, shootouts, and other encounters. The self-surveillance is supposed to deter them from lapsing into brutality. But last week the
The Justice Department revelations are now scrambling preconceived notions about video cameras and government eavesdropping, according to Daniel Castro, senior analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank in
“You don’t want to increase the police state by using surveillance,” Castro told VICE News. “You want to decrease it by using surveillance.”
The ACLU and others who often decry Big Brother are in favor of using cameras to hold cops accountable for their actions. Police unions that support deploying the most Orwellian technology, meanwhile, are resisting their use.
Those ironies aren’t surprising, said Castro. Cameras have always provided defense attorneys as well as cops with evidence. In fact, when close-circuit television was first widely adopted years ago, video cameras were billed as a way to reduce, not expand, the power of law enforcement. Recall how a bystander’s video of cops beating Rodney King in Los Angeles in 1992 led to riots and, later, reforms in the city’s corrupt and racist police force.
In an April 10 letter to Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, US Justice Department officials said the city’s trigger-happy police often neglected to switch on the cameras before reaching for their revolvers. The Justice Department also asserted that in the last four years officers killed 23 people and wounded 14 others in incidents that were case studies in irresponsibility.
“A majority of these shootings were unconstitutional,” said the letter. “Police officers often use deadly force in circumstances where there is no imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm to officers or others.”
The report hit a nerve. Last month, two
The primary issue is not whether cameras can keep tabs on cops but rather how the
“Surveillance can be very beneficial,” said Castro. “When it’s not abused, we’re better off with it than without it.”
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