FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Why Police Body Cameras Aren’t the Solution

Police body cameras are all the rage lately. Al Sharpton wants them used to monitor the activities of cops. Ann Coulter wants them used to “shut down” Al Sharpton. The White House wants them because, well, they’re a way to look both “tough on police violence” and “tough on crime” by spending $263 million on new law enforcement technology.

When Al Sharpton, Ann Coulter and the president of the United States agree on anything, my immediate, visceral reaction is extreme skepticism. In this case, the known facts support that skepticism.

It’s exceedingly unlikely that widespread use of police body cameras would reduce the incidence or severity of unjustified police violence. We’ve already seen the results of numerous technology “solutions” to that problem.

The introduction of mace and tasers to police weapons inventories encouraged a hair-trigger attitude toward encounters with “suspects” (“suspect” being law-enforcement-ese for “anyone who isn’t a cop”). Their supposed non-lethality made it safer to substitute violent action for peaceful talk.

The introduction of military weaponry and vehicles to policing hasn’t produced de-escalation either. Quite the opposite, in fact — now we get to watch small-town police departments stage frequent re-enactments of the Nazi occupation of Paris in towns across America.

And police car “dash cams?” That’s obviously the most direct comparison. But the dash cam always seems to malfunction, or the police department mysteriously loses its output, when a credible claim of abusive police behavior arises.

On the other hand, it’s absolutely certain that widespread use of police body cameras would increase the scope and efficacy of an increasingly authoritarian surveillance state.

The White House proposal calls for an initial rollout of 50,000 cameras. Does anyone doubt that the output of those cameras would be kept, copied, cross-referenced and analyzed against law enforcement databases (including but not limited to facial recognition databases) on a continuing basis?

Assuming a camera attaches to a particular officer with an eight hour shift (rather than being passed around at shift changes for 24-hour use), that’s 400,000 hours per day of random warrantless searches to be continuously mined for probable cause to investigate and arrest people. Even George Orwell didn’t go so far as to have 1984‘s Thought Police carry portable cameras everywhere they went!

Video technology is certainly part of the solution to police violence, but that solution should remain in the hands of regular people, not the state. More and more of us every day come into possession of the ability to record video on the spot, while instantly porting it to Internet storage so that it can’t be destroyed at the scene or tampered with after the fact. Cops need to be on cameras they don’t control.

But part of the solution is still just part of the solution. Even when cameras catch violent, abusive, criminal cops in action — as, for example, when business security cameras filmed Fullerton, California police officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli beating homeless man Kelly Thomas to death in 2011 — it’s incredibly hard to get prosecutions and even harder to get convictions.

Ubiquitous video monitoring of state actors by regular people is a start. But the only real way to guarantee and end to police violence is to bring an end to state “law enforcement” — in fact, to the state itself.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (c4ss.org).

More articles by:

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.

December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Macdonald Stainsby
Unist’ot’en Camp is Under Threat in Northern Canada
Senator Tom Harkin
Questions for Vice-President Bush on Posada Carriles
W. T. Whitney
Two Years and Colombia’s Peace Agreement is in Shreds
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
Ramzy Baroud
The Conspiracy Against Refugees
David Rosen
The Swamp Stinks: Trump & Washington’s Rot
Raouf Halaby
Wall-to-Wall Whitewashing
Daniel Falcone
Noam Chomsky Turns 90
Dean Baker
An Inverted Bond Yield Curve: Is a Recession Coming?
Nick Pemberton
The Case For Chuck Mertz (Not Noam Chomsky) as America’s Leading Intellectual
Ralph Nader
New Book about Ethics and Whistleblowing for Engineers Affects Us All!
Dan Kovalik
The Return of the Nicaraguan Contras, and the Rise of the Pro-Contra Left
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Exposing the Crimes of the CIAs Fair-Haired Boy, Paul Kagame, and the Rwandan Patriotic Front
Jasmine Aguilera
Lessons From South of the Border
Manuel García, Jr.
A Formula for U.S. Election Outcomes
Sam Pizzigati
Drug Company Execs Make Millions Misleading Cancer Patients. Here’s One Way to Stop Them
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Agriculture as Wrong Turn
James McEnteer
And That’s The Way It Is: Essential Journalism Books of 2018
Chris Gilbert
Biplav’s Communist Party of Nepal on the Move: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian
Judith Deutsch
Siloed Thinking, Climate, and Disposable People: COP 24 and Our Discontent
Jill Richardson
Republicans Don’t Want Your Vote to Count
John Feffer
‘Get Me Outta Here’: Trump Turns the G20 into the G19
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail