December 2, 2020

Because Body Cameras Haven’t Made Cops Better, Two Law Enforcement Agencies Are Going To Start Random Inspections Of Footage

Body cameras were supposed to bring more transparency and accountability to law enforcement agencies. The change that was promised hasn’t arrived. Body camera footage does little for the public. Every so often, it results in a successful lawsuit and/or prosecution.

What body camera footage does best is what cops do best: lock people up. Prosecutors are making the most of recordings, using them as evidence against criminal suspects.

When the idea of watching the police first started gaining traction, officials and politicians opposed to anything that might make cops more accountable claimed the recordings were nothing but a “gotcha” tactic. In their minds, someone would be reviewing all recorded footage every day, just waiting for a cop to screw up.

This was a stupid stance to take. Not only was this fantasy logistically impossible, but there’s hardly anyone inside law enforcement agencies all that interested in punishing officers, even when they’ve screwed up. What has actually happened is the millions of hours of footage recorded every day is uploaded and forgotten about until someone needs it. It usually takes a lawsuit to get this footage released, or at least the threat of one. Defense attorneys looking for footage to defend their clients must subject themselves to a variety of third-party user agreements before they’re allowed to see anything.

Since the police aren’t going to police themselves — not even with a slew of new self-policing tools — accountability and transparency must be forced on agencies by other government entities. But this has been very slow in developing. And what we’re being given can’t even generously be called a half-measure.

One (ONE!) law enforcement agency in Indiana has agreed to random inspections of body camera footage. The agreement is the result of the shooting of a black man by white police officers. No footage exists of this incident, despite the fact the officer who shot the man had a cruiser equipped with a dash cam and was wearing a body camera.

The new inspection rules are incredibly lax, pretty much ensuring no South Bend cop will ever be the “victim” of this barely-there “gotcha tactic.”

The new requirements call for sergeants to randomly sample at least five videos each month from officers they supervise, and to review at least 15 minutes of footage from each subordinate three or more times per year. The sergeants are to check for discrepancies between the videos and officers’ reports, and to pass positive and negative findings up the chain of command.

Wow, up to 45 minutes a YEAR! Yeah, that’s going to turn things around, restore the public’s trust, etc. Considering how much footage is generated on a yearly basis, the chance of randomly pulling a culpatory needle from this haystack begins to approach zero almost immediately.

This new measure — instituted in the wake of the unrecorded shooting — will do more to increase accountability than the random inspection policy.

Another new provision requires an officer, before stopping a recording, to speak into the device with the reason.

This won’t prevent abuse but it will at least stump officers who can’t come up with a legit excuse in the heat of the moment. There are lots of excuses made about how it’s impossible to turn on a camera when in the middle of police stuff. Now, officers will have to come up with something believable when they decide they don’t want to record an interaction. Unfortunately, it won’t force officers to turn on their cameras first, which is still going to be a problem going forward.

Only one other city has announced a random inspection plan. That would be Los Angeles, home to one of the largest police forces in the nation. The local union actually agreed to this, so the inspection program has been weakened to its satisfaction. The inspection program — first reported by the LA Times — doesn’t provide any details as to how much footage is reviewed or how often. But it does show why the union agreed to it.

Chief Michel Moore told the Board of Police Commissioners on Tuesday that he reached an agreement with the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file cops, to inspect recordings that don’t involve arrests or the use of force.

The inspections will allow supervisors to determine whether some officers need additional training or counseling to prevent instances of biased policing, Moore said. Supervisors will make sure officers aren’t rude and that they explain their actions when stopping people, he said.

This may help community relations but it won’t stop excessive force deployments or ill-advised shootings. Arrests and use of force incidents are exempted from this random inspection program, which means it’s not all that random and it’s not all that useful.

Despite the limitations, the program has already caught one officer who engaged in an extremely depraved act while responding to a call.

A Los Angeles police officer is under investigation after a random review of body camera footage showed him fondling a dead woman’s breasts, according to a person briefed on the incident.

The Los Angeles Police Department officer and a partner had responded to a report of a body at a residence, the person said. The officer fondled the corpse’s breasts when his partner was not in the room.

The officer has not been named, which is par for the course when it comes to “accountability.” The union has already expressed its displeasure with the officer’s actions, which only means fondling corpses is one of the few misdeeds it won’t publicly support.

The officer shut off his body camera before fondling the dead woman, but the rolling buffer engaged two minutes before the officer turned his camera back on, capturing him in mid-fondle.

These are very minimal efforts that barely deserve to be called “efforts.” This is what we’re being given in exchange for our tax dollars and the vast amount of power we, as a society, have entrusted law enforcement with. Sorry, chief(s), this ain’t it. Do better.
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