Friday, August 29, 2014

Citizen Power - Part II: Those Cop-Cameras...

Continuing our series on co-veillance, sousveillance and general citizen empowerment, on our streets... last time we discussed our right and ability to use new instrumentalities to expand our ability to view, record and hold others accountable, with the cameras in our pockets.

Now -- the other side of this accountability equation. 

Some ideas seem far-out "scifi"... until suddenly they become mainstream.  In the wake of the recent Ferguson, Missouri riots, a petition asking for a "Mike Brown Law" that would require all state, county, and local police to wear cameras. has achieved almost 150,000 signatures. Last August, a federal judge called for the NYPD to wear such cameras when she ruled that the department's stop-and-frisk policy violated people's constitutional rights. But as A.J. Vicens discusses in Mother Jones: "Putting Body Cameras on Cops Is Hardly a Cure-All for Abuses."

Meanwhile, Taser International (TASR), which makes the most widely used police body cameras, increased its bookings for its video unit almost twofold last quarter, signing deals with the police departments of Winston-Salem, N.C., Spartanburg County, S.C., and San Diego. The company provides both hardware and data services related to the cameras and now works with 20 major cities in one capacity or another.

Groups that would normally be skeptical of authorities videotaping everything support the idea of camera-equipped cops. The American Civil Liberties Union published a white paper last year supporting the use of the cameras. “Everybody wishes right now there was a video record of what happened,” says Jay Stanley, the author of the ACLU’s paper, referring to the Ferguson shooting.

“While no technical solution would eliminate misconduct completely, cameras do seem as if they could help reduce the legal bill. A study published last April showed that complaints against police dropped 88 percent in Rialto, Calif., after that city began randomly assigning officers to wear body cameras. At the same time, use-of-force incidents dropped 59 percent," writes Joshua Brustein: In Ferguson's Aftermath, Will Police Adopt Body Cameras?

See how this was forecast -- pretty much all of it -- in The Transparent Society.  And what did I predict will happen, when both cops and the citizens they stop are armed with cameras, all the time?

Better safety, better law, less injustice... but it will also be the dawn of a Golden Age of Sarcasm.

== But you can tell it's all arrived when the punditry class finally notices... ==

The topic is attracting attention from journalists and essayists, some thoughtful and some paranoid.   For example, Martin Kaste, on NPR, appraised how police cams can be problematic if department policies are confusing, or if it is left up to the officer when to record. Also: there's the matter of the 30-second buffer. When an officer presses record, the camera saves the 30 seconds of images that led up to that moment, but not the audio. The manufacturer designed the buffer to protect the privacy of police officers — and to appeal to resistant police unions — but it also means the cameras may miss crucial noises or words that trigger an incident.”

See my earlier posting: You Have the Right to Record Police, where I discuss the legal basis for a citizen's right to record police interactions in a public setting.

Reihan Salam, writing in Slate, touted the many benefits of police body cameras, and pointed out: "Our capacity to remember past events is notoriously faulty. There is a universal human tendency to fixate on some things while neglecting others. Video recordings can help correct for these deficiencies."

But Sarah Libby, writing for the Atlantic’s CityLab, complains that even if the officer who shot Brown was wearing a body camera, the footage wouldn't necessarily clear up any of the questions the public—or even the victims and their families—have about how things unfolded, at least not right away. And maybe not ever.  In her article --  Even When Police Do Wear Cameras, Don't Count on Seeing the Footage” – she discusses procedural obstacles to public access:

“Here in San Diego, our scandal-plagued police department has begun outfitting some officers with body cameras, and the City Council has approved a plan to roll out hundreds more…. That's because the department claims the footage, which is captured by devices financed by city taxpayers and worn by officers on the public payroll, aren't public records. Our newsroom's request for footage from the shootings under the California Public Records Act was denied. Once footage becomes part of an investigation, the department says it doesn't have to release them."

She quotes Joshua Chanin, a San Diego State professor who has studied transparency measures in police departments across the country. "There are enough instances of cameras 'not working,' footage having gone missing, cops 'forgetting' to turn them on, etc., that rules in place to punish officers who tamper with cameras, erase video are perhaps the most important part of the equation."

But Sarah Libby suggests“The footage their officers record will never show up on YouTube and go viral. Nor will it help fill in the gaps when a major crime leaves lots of unanswered questions. Crime victims or their families may never get to see and hear what the devices recorded."

All told, alas, Libby's is a fairly shallow assessment. We need accountability, which will come (after some kinks are ironed out) when supervisors and Internal Affairs divisions and defense attorneys get reliable access to cop-cam records, even if the raw footage -- for some legitimate reasons -- falls short of being press-accessible "public records."  

We do not require youtubing of everything, in order to gain the accountability benefits. 

Indeed, once those benefits are secured, it will be time to swivel and show a little sympathy  for public servants on our streets who have one of the most difficult jobs imaginable!  Under a constant spotlight, they will eliminate the crude thugs and bullies in their ranks and keep ratcheting up professionalism! But in return, how about a little pity? You do not need every little expectoration, crotch-scratching, muttered curse or private opinion blared on YouTube. When a hardworking officer pees into a water bottle in his patrol car, because there's been no time for a bathroom break, are you gonna demand we all look?  Come on. Go ahead and assign some ACLU types to scan the raw footage, okay? Only then... 

...when they are generally being good... can we back off from utter voyeurism?  Moderation, in all things.

Nevertheless, and returning to today's friable, fragile present.  We do need to insist that souseillance-co-veillance and accountability march ever forward!  We need our eyes!  And the cops -- heck all elites and all authorities... including ourselves -- must be supervised, whenever we assert power over others.

Indeed, some of this accountability must come from outside the police force. Yes... though with less sanctimony. Do this progressively, pragmatically, irresistibly, with some sympathy for the 85% of cops who are sincerely trying to do a really, really hard job.

Moreover, I do agree with Libby's final assessment, regarding those cop-cameras:

 “If you want to make sure the world will be able to see footage of a cop or a criminal caught in the act, you're better off taking the video yourself.”


Alex Tolley said...

“If you want to make sure the world will be able to see footage of a cop or a criminal caught in the act, you're better off taking the video yourself.”

Pretty much the best way to go. But be aware that audio may still be a felony in a number of states. What is required is that the video is streamed to the cloud to prevent loss after an incident. This is only going to become easier.
My concern is that the "kill switch" (or similar technology) technology will be used to disable targeted cellphones to counter this. We are all headed to spy technology. This will have social consequences. It will be Elizabethan England, or more recent history, East Germany, the USSR, etc.

atomsmith said...

That Mother Jones article is very weird.

"Putting Body Cameras on Cops Is Hardly a Cure-All for Abuses."

Regardless of the big fat strawman in the headline, it explains pretty clearly why it's a good idea, expert opinions and all!

The problem of police tampering with their cop-cams, whether deliberate or "accidental," will solve itself when is seen by juries for what it is, spoliation of evidence.

Jumper said...

Re. stock phrases, a friend went to China and learned the language. "Curiosity killed the cat." "That's what being a jack-of-all-trades gets you." "What's up for tonight?" "The old lady got a chick flick." "Maybe straw will turn to gold for you." Imagine what a non-native-English-speaking person would make of that.

He told me Chinese is similar except you have never heard a single one of their aphorisms.

locumranch said...

Video 'co-veillance' is a fine idea whose utility is sorely limited by its medium because video can only document 'appearances'. It cannot be used to demonstrate the mental state of those involved, nor can it clearly establish the degree of either 'premeditation' or 'intent'. Additionally, video is often subject to Point-of-View (POV) manipulation (and/or bias) that will most likely preclude its use in a court of law.

If you've seen the same Ferguson MO videos that I have, then you know from whence I speak: Is that paramilitary-garbed carbine-pointing police officer a besieged defender or a menacing aggressor? I've seen that damn video 20 times and I still can't tell.

Video has turned the old 'Seeing is Believing' adage around so many times that it has become 'Believing is Seeing', proving once again that justice will be the first casualty in the Age of Optics, with certainty auguring (and 'augering in') a close second.


Alfred Differ said...


Please take this as a politely offered suggestion to learn the math language well enough to speak knowledgeably on the topic of infinities. You are off course enough to make me go look up the Dunning-Kruger effect again. This is fun stuff to learn if you take up the offer. 8)

Michael C. Rush said...

>> can we back off from utter voyeurism?

Can (will) TPTB? And if we do and they don't, is any sort of true sousveillance possible?

I do get your point, but...what if some cops start peeing in their water bottles as cover while shooting civilians? (An extreme and silly example of the very real type of manipulations that people in power tend to "discover.")

Alfred Differ said...

Recording events even during the mundane times can be useful and should be something we all consider doing. I witnessed a car accident at a stop light once where the person turning left in front of be was hit by someone coming through the intersection from the left. The mangled mess of both cars wound up in the lanes in front of me and I had to stop quickly. I glanced at the left turn light figuring I might get asked as a witness whether it was red or green and I clearly remember noting its state, but by the time the police asked I was too shaky and couldn't recall. I knew that could happen to witnesses and still I couldn't beat it. A dash-cam would have done it, though. 8/

Cheap, ubiquitous cameras and microphones don't have to produce everything for YouTube consumption, but a little helper for those of us who witness events would sure be useful.

Duncan Cairncross said...

I agree with Alfred,
I "witnessed" a crash,
A car in front of me pulled out from a junction and was hit by a motorbike

After helping the two injured parties until the ambulance arrived I had to walk around the scene to work out what had happened,
I had watched it - but it was too fast - only afterwards was I able to understand what I had seen,

My "eye witness" input was almost useless

Jumper said...

locum is right about ubiquitous videos touted as proving a thing which really remains unproven. I would point out any lawyer could demolish an attempt to make unwarranted assumptions from such.

One problem is the TV networks have done this for years, to the point that 60 minutes has been satirized for it (I remember the Whoopee Cushion scandal, and the waving about of the manila folder with "EVIDENCE" printed on it, in lieu of actual evidence.) And propaganda of all types has used the same techniques of editing, lies, and suggestion to manipulate perception. We have watched Blow Up also.

Of late too we have seen James O'Keefe and Alex Jones do it.

We are much wiser now. Progress does exist.

LarryHart said...

Off topic...

Before leaving work for the American holiday weekend, I set my calendar ahead for next Tuesday, the same calendar I've had since fourth grade in the 1960s. And as every year, there's a melancholy feeling associated with having to look at the first of a string of longer month names.

Although I haven't been on a school schedule in forever, it still feels sad to go from the six consecutive months with less-than-seven letters to the six consecutive months with seven-or-more letters.


David Brin said...

And "arrrrrrs!" So many letter "R"s Autumn feels like a pirate attack, stealing the light and easy life!

On the other hand , with three kids now in college, we seem to be trading (lots of) money for TIME!

locumranch said...

Alfred and Michael make some interesting points.

In the first case, Alfred invokes the Dunning-Kruger Effect to tell non-specialists (especially myself) to 'shut up' lest they display their obvious ignorance and incompetence, but he forgets that the same principle applies to everyone irregardless of specialty, including himself. Be that as it may, I defer to his greater level of mathematical indoctrination, assuming that he can defend Cantor's premise without the non-specialty use of 'mapping' or 'argument from contradiction'.

In the second case, Michael argues (in effect) that co-veillance is an all-or-none proposition, forcing us to either accept the enforced ignorance of privacy or a shameless indulgence in voyeurism as a lifestyle choice, mostly because we've been headed toward cultural voyeurism for a long time, moving away from a Robert F. Kennedy health privacy culture to a Ronald Reagan colonic polyp display culture with weekly updates. We can therefore only assume that public voyeurism will get much much worse, at least until such prurient 'discovery' gets so routine that the public simply tunes out, caring little about watching yet another presidential sex film. Until then, however, sousveillance & coveillance will most likely become synonymous with 'PORNO for Everyone'.


Tim H. said...

Locum, "Porno for everyone" in an aging society? It'll be like the Python intro with a succession of young ladies followed by "Now for something ompletely different!" Eric Idle in a bikini.

LarryHart said...

@Tim H,

That's not Eric Idle with the long beard going "It's...", is it? Tyring to picture the face behind the beard from memory, and if it's any of the regulars, it's gotta be Michael (Don't call me Sarah) Palin.

Speaking of Monty Python, I see locum in his turn invokes the principle asserted by (yes, this was) Eric Idle in "Life of Brian", which equates telling a man he can't have babies to oppression.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

I never took notice that all but the summer months (well, kinda sorta on the college schedule) contain the letter "R".

Paul451 said...

Funny that Taser makes the cop-cams, but don't have trigger-cameras on Tasers themselves (their first and primary product).

Paul451 said...

You weren't being told to "shut up", you were asked to "join us, learn our language, play in our toybox".

Right now, you're the schoolkid whining, "I don't understand [therefore] it's stupid".

[Interestingly, you're even wrong about the Dunning-Kruger Effect. The effect is weaker as knowledge increases, that was the point of the study.]


Them's fighting words.

[turing phrase: fhewing tfavid]

Paul451 said...

Re: Seasons
Traditional cultures at my latitude typically have summer/winter/spring split into one or two seasons each. And "Autumn" isn't really a thing. Right now Deep Winter (cold/rain) has ended, and we're into Early Spring (warmer days/cold nights/rain). But in my specific region, the main tribes have four seasons, two long warm/hot seasons, two short cold seasons. Classically, the top-end has two seasons, "The Big Wet" and "The Big Dry", but most tribes apparently have 6-8 seasons, often unevenly distributed. So some might have just one or two long seasons for the eight month Dry Season, then three or four short seasons for The Wet. Pre-monsoon-storms, true-monsoon, late-monsoon-calm-humid. And even those seasons will be sub-divided. Of course, drill down further and you'll find dozens of major seasonal cycles for different purposes (fish/birds/lizards/plants/fires/winds/storms/travel...) from just one tribe, which is what you'd expect to develop in a nomadic culture.

Whereas European farmers would only need planting-growing-harvesting-freezing.

Paul451 said...

"And "Autumn" isn't really a thing."

(Just to explain that, in the southern two thirds of Australia, the "dying-season" is Summer. In the top third, it's a month or so after monsoon ends. Neither of which correspond to European-style "Autumn" even transposed 6 months for the southern hemisphere.)

LarryHart said...


Capable of telling shit from Shinola, I am of the latter category.

Is there anything you don't think is shit?

Tony Fisk said...

...happy as a pig therein.

Who ever thought ducks were made of wood?

Tony Fisk said...

There is, of course, this type

Jerry Emanuelson said...

Paul, TASER does sell two versions of a camera that becomes part of the police Taser, and is automatically activated (video and audio) as soon as the Taser is switched to the ARMED position. So complete video is captured both before and after the incident.

Of course, the police have to actually buy and use the camera component.

LarryHart said...

Completely off topic, but seems somehow appropriate for the unofficial end of summer.

In the 1980s, I used to be a fan of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" midnight showings. I haven't seen it for at least 20 years now, probably closer to 25, and something put it into my head to rent it and watch it again last night.

It's definitely not the same experience to watch it at home that it was in a theater full of screaming fanatics who knew all of their "lines". But there is a trade-off. Being able to hear all of the actual movie sound, there were things I never noticed before, even in multiple viewings:

* "The Transducer will seduce ya" and "It's something you'll get used to" are rhymes for "Medusa" in the same manner that "Now we're engaged and I'm so glad" rhymes with "Oh, Brad!"

* "God Bless Lily St Cyr" is actually a rhyme for "His lust is so sincere" several lines earlier.

* This is probably only in the USA version, but when Brad and Janet are driving in the storm before their tire blows out, the car radio is playing Nixon's resignation speech.

locumranch said...

LarryH poses a very interesting question: "Is there anything you don't think is shit?"

This is a difficult and excellent question, one that I propose to answer forthwith through the application of Set Theory.

For the sake of argument, I will define Set A as 'things humans produce ‘ and Set B as ‘the products of humans’. Comparing the membership of the two finite sets, I quickly find one-to-one correspondence, meaning that Set A = Set B, as the difference between ‘product’, ‘byproduct’, ‘waste product' and ‘things produced’ is mere philosophical distinction.

However, if I assume that one or both sets are practically infinite, I am left with something of a conundrum that can only be resolved if I assume (as Cantor does) that some properties (such as the property of being an ordinal) produce collections that are simply too large to be sets.

Now, here’s where things get tricky. Cantor says that I should make the above assumption which would then allow me to conclude that Set A and/or Set B, being practically infinite, may share the same class but are unequal and may therefore contain multiple infinities of anything (including shit), whereas Russell says I can’t make that assumption because ‘infinity’ (as in ‘infinities of anything’) is not a definable term.

So, that’s LarryH’s answer:

Assuming a finite set of ‘things humans produce’, then shit does figure prominently in the human lexicon as does art, literature, science, music and technology (etc), but if you choose to follow Cantor’s lead and multiply infinities then every human product, especially the mathematical, becomes 'transfinite' as in 'shit multiplied by infinity’.


Like Monty Python on logic (Ducks float; Wood floats. Ergo, Ducks are made of Wood), Rocky Horror is damn fine satire.

Paul451 said...

Looks like the mindless hysteria has won the day for California reps.

God forbid anyone shows them that you can make a shotgun out of plumbing parts without machining.

David Brin said...

Larryhart sorry but I have always found Rocky Horror to be execrably boring.

Oh no! He's wearing panties and a garter belt! Argh! How daring and.... yawn zzzzzzzzzzzzz

There's only one first rate song in this "musical" and it belongs to Meat Loaf.

In some parallel reality, de Palma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is the show that gets midnight screenings and chanting fans. It's far better in every conceivable way.

David Brin said...

Larryhart sorry but I have always found Rocky Horror to be execrably boring.

Oh no! He's wearing panties and a garter belt! Argh! How daring and.... yawn zzzzzzzzzzzzz

There's only one first rate song in this "musical" and it belongs to Meat Loaf.

In some parallel reality, de Palma's PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE is the show that gets midnight screenings and chanting fans. It's far better in every conceivable way.

Acacia H. said...

Meat Loaf for dinner again? =^-^=

David Brin said...


Michael C. Rush said...

>>Michael argues (in effect) that co-veillance is an all-or-none proposition

I really wasn't. I was suggesting that achieving a desirable balance may be a lot more difficult than it may at first seem.