It’s an ancient dilemma voiced as early as the first century: Qui custodiet ipsos custodies?, meaning “Who guards the guardians?” A modern day version is, “Who polices the police?”
In other words, when a group of people is given power and special privileges with that power, who will make sure they do not abuse that power, or do not get away with it? After all, power corrupts, et al, and power finds ways to insulate its corruption from accountability.
Traditionally, when police powers are abused, people mainly can only file complaints with the department—the very institution responsible for the infraction. Sometimes, such complaints lead to “official investigations,” which in only a few cases lead to any action being taken. Not to mention, it’s a long and slow process full of obstacles for the citizen. Police know this, and those who chose to abuse their power are not too deterred by it.
But it looks like a new alternative has some answers. An experiment in Rialto, California required half of on-duty police officers to wear a small collar-cam designed to record at the personal level every interaction officers have with citizens. The results were stark:
Rialto’s police officers also used force nearly 60 percent less often — in 25 instances, compared with 61. When force was used, it was twice as likely to have been applied by the officers who weren’t wearing cameras during that shift, the study found.
As one website commented, “This strongly suggests the majority of the time police use force is unnecessary. In other words, the majority of the time these officers used force they were simply committing acts of violence which they don’t feel comfortable committing if it’s captured on film.”
But that’s not all: “the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.”
Granted, the cameras probably have just as much effect on some citizens as well. Having a record of the event not only checks officers, but many people who may escalate in some situations may be inclined less to do so if they know their provocations are being recorded. This is true of frivolous complaints as well. The San Bernardino Sun notes, “One person coming into the station to file a complaint left quietly, without pursuing a complaint, when told that his entire encounter with a Rialto police officer had been videotaped.”
<Nevertheless, the effect on police officers is welcome and needed, as tough-guy, hot-head, and corrupt police encounters have come to light all over the country, many being captured on video. For example, note how the police at this DWI checkpoint change demeanor (at about 5:20) once they realized (too late!) they were on camera. The lead officer had clearly escalated too quickly, gone far beyond what was needed, and probably used a “false positive” from a drug dog in order to search the vehicle—yet all of this was “legal” as far as they could get away with it. But they knew they were at least pushing it, and perhaps crossing a line, because they quit talking so candidly once the camera was discovered. But you have to love the part were the searching officer is caught saying “He’s perfectly innocent and he knows his rights. He knows what the Constitution says.” Oops!
So what do you think will happen when officers—many of whom strut, intimidate, and abuse their power constantly—are forced to wear cameras for every encounter, all the time?
Well, first, some of them will whine like school girls. Bullies don’t like to be held accountable, which means, bullies don’t like the law—which is why so many of them act like they’re above it. They’re not.
But it was instructive when one Rialto cop in this experiment complained by “questioning why ‘big brother’ should see everything they do.” Lol. You’ve got to love the irony in that age-old question: “Who shall watch big brother?” When big brother gets a taste of his own big-brothering, he squeals like a bully who got his first punch in the nose.
Police love to say if you’re not doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide, yet all over the nation police unions virulently fight calls to force them to wear cameras.
So what have they got to hide?
Yes, big brother should watch big brother, and in the American system, “the people” is big brother. So call your local police and demand this type and level of accountability in the name of public safety, officer safety, rule of law, and the public good.
As informationliberation.com states, “Not only should every police officer should be forced to wear one of these cameras, their videos should be freely uploaded for crowd-sourcing by the general public on YouTube.”
As Rialto police chief Tony Farrar said, “The legitimacy of policing today requires community trust. This is a method (officers wearing cameras) to maintain that trust. Once the public loses trust, it is very difficult, or a long road, to get back that trust.”
Now all we need are 24-hour presidential, congressional, and judicial cameras. That would be a good start, at least. Hey, how about NSA cameras, and FISA cameras, TSA cameras, Border Patrol cameras, ad infinitum! We could implement cameras and audio recorders for every public official, local, state, and federal.
I can feel the trust swelling already.