Police Headcams

Tim blogs that UK police are to be equipped with helmetcams and video recorders. One quote struck me as troubling …

Officers would turn the devices on and off at their discretion, speaking into the camera after turning it on to explain where, when and why they were starting it. A second explanation was required before turning the device off. The report also cautioned against taking extraneous video when entering private homes, and said officers should turn cameras off during strip searches. But it also threatened disciplinary action against officers who deliberately masked the camera’s view or deleted video from the camera’s memory.

If one of the purposes is to prevent police abuses of the citizenry, it can only be achieved if the “disciplinary action” is worse than the punishment that might be applied to the officer if the event had been recorded. If a bad cop wants to administer a beating which would result in firing or criminal charges but the “discipline” for turning the camera off is a suspension, do you think the camera will stay turned on? A subtler version is “in the scuffle my helmet got knocked off,” no punishment, no discipline.

Nearly every cop is honorable and this wouldn’t be an issue. But if one of the purposes is to prevent police abuse, then the on/off switch should be under different control than just the officer’s discretion.

Another problem is what will happen if a tape is reviewed later by a third party (supervisor, police review board) and the officer comes under question for not taking action when a misdemeanor is recorded. The officer would have to justify his lack of action weeks or maybe months later. Maybe the officer was on a more important call, maybe it was just a case of officer discretion. Who among us can remember all our actions two days ago let along the reasoning for those actions?

Helmet cams are probably a good idea but the justification and policy needs work and both need to be clear to the citizens.


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