Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Smile! You're on camera

According to Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, up to 100 officers will be wearing miniature cameras attached to their glasses or articles of clothing this coming summer.

Now just keep in mind that the purpose of the cameras isn't to make the populace safer. The purpose of the cameras seems to be to defend officers against charges of abuse or use of excessive force. According to the chief, "This is something that can make a difference when officers are complained on."

Well, Mr. McClelland, there is already a device out there that can show the world whether or not an officer acted in an appropriate manner. It's called a cell phone and citizens around the country have used them to record officers behaving badly. And, as a result, officers have arrested folks who weren't breaking the law and have seized property from individuals without a showing that the property was used in the commission of a crime.

I suppose if the cameras are assigned to the 100 officers who have received the most citizen complaints they may indeed act as a deterrent to the officers. Knowing they are on camera might just make an officer think twice before engaging in questionable conduct.
"It offers a defense to the officer's conduct when he's unjustly accused of something when there are no other witnesses or unbiased witnesses," said Larry Karson, an assistant professor of criminal justice at University of Houston-Downtown.
Of course comments like those attributed to Mr. Karson raise the question of what exactly does a degree in criminal justice provide the budding student. I feel reasonably certain in saying that it certainly doesn't provide the perspective of those who are either charged with criminal conduct or those who defend them.

And with the vapid insight of Mr. Karson, students and parents ought to question where that tuition money is going.

Apparently in Mr. Karson's world, those who complain of police misconduct are biased witnesses while the officers themselves just get up there and recite the facts. His bias in favor of those who wear shiny badges and carry deadly weapons must blind him to the reality that the police do trample the rights of the citizenry on a daily basis and get away with it because folks like Mr. Karson refuse to believe that officers lie.

As to these recordings, will there be a master list of which officers were wearing cameras on each particular day? How long will the recordings be kept? Will defense attorneys be notified if there are recordings captured by these cameras of activity involving their clients? Will recordings that exonerate a defendant be provided to defense counsel? When will officers be required to turn on the cameras? When will they be allowed to turn them off? Will there be a way to monitor the recordings so that exculpatory evidence isn't destroyed?

In the meantime, keep those cell phones handy. You never know when that recording could come in handy.


Mark W. Altman M.I.S. said...

DR. Karson didn't say anything wrong. The video evidence could clear an officer in a "he said/ she said" situation. It is also possible it could clear a defendant. However, it FAR less likely to clear a defendant than a cop, which is why a DEFENSE attorney is crying about this policy.

Anonymous said...

These cameras will go only to those officers who have a history of positive interaction with the public. Those with several complaints or disciplinary issues will never see them. Kinda like the dash cameras that are only present in the vehicles dedicated to the DWI Task Force. Smoke and mirrors...

Anonymous said...

I am a defense attorney. I am having difficulty on many cases with videos that are not being turned over or are having chunks cut out of them. It seems to happen everytime their is an issue where law enforcement made a mistake, overstepped or are lying about reasons for the stop. Like my blood test client whose forearms were blackened by multiple attempts to draw blood by an incompetent person and the video stops right before the first of many sticks or two different current cases where the video begins after the reported reason for the stop. I say put cameras on everyone of them. Watch the arrests go down for the ones violating the fourth amendment consistently. Watch also the number of beat downs drop when defendants run or smart off to cops. I say cameras and mics all hours on duty and we will have a honest people in the job while the roaches scatter from the light.