09/15/10 267 W - + 3 - 6 Watching the Watchmen

Discussion topic for your consideration. Taping the police. Here's a Washington Examiner posting presenting a Cato Institute video on the subject, found this week while reading Drudge. Other opinions and perspectives are also easy to find. The digital age has brought photography and videotaping of public servants pretty far into the foreground.

What do readers think? Law enforcement uses taping to enforce laws. Should citizens use taping to enforce [adjective] law enforcement? Note the intentional addition of [adjective] in the last sentence. For some people, [adjective] might be "effective." Others might say "appropriate." Others might opt for "legal."

Here's a notable quote from the above article, citing an earlier Examiner editorial that wrote "those who record police frequently are 'more of a threat to the jobs of public safety officers than to public safety itself. One is not the same as the other'."

What does the law-enforcement community think? What's the impact of taping on the performance of their duties, and, in particular, during confrontations and arrests? (Both the physical presence of the camera, and the impartial record created from same?)

Discuss as desired.1

1The title of this posting is derived from the Latin phrase Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? by the Roman poet Juvenal, which is literally translated as "Who will guard the gaurds themselves?" And which is also rendered as the more familiar "Who watches the watchmen." Yeah, had to look that all up. Watchmen is also the title of a 1986-87 comic book series that's perhaps finest in modern times.

First, I’d like to point out the Washington Examiner articles referenced are both “opinion articles”, and a quick browse through the web site shows they’re made up or more opinion than news. I’ve never heard of them, but my quick browse tells me they’re more like the Independent than the N&O. Second, the Cato Institute, according to Wikipedia, is a libertarian think tank for limited government, individual liberty, free markets, etc. So, it’s already impossible for the police to do right by these two organizations…

But, let’s talk about taping the police… I don’t know of any police that don’t want to be taped because they want to do something illegal, violate someone’s rights, or kick someone’s butt. No police I know are planning on doing that, and they have no interest in doing that. Between DOT cameras, private business cameras, and cameras in all our cars, we pretty much take it for granted that we’re always being taped by something, somewhere. Our dislike for the handheld cameras has come about because we’ve found that the people who stick cameras in our faces are trying to antagonize us, catch us making a mistake, or just generally cause us embarrassment. And unfortunately, when an officer does make a mistake, even accidental, the likelihood they’ll get disciplined is directly related to the amount of embarrassment it causes. So, being on YouTube exponentially increases your chances of being written up. Pee in a dark alley in the middle of the night when nobody’s around, and nobody knows. Pee in a dark alley when nobody’s around but a security camera sees you, and it ends up on YouTube? Toast.

I almost never see someone keeping their distance, quietly filming. Almost always, they stand as close as they can, yelling at the person we’re dealing with, “Man, they’re harassing/assaulting/illegally-searching you! They can’t do that to you! I’m getting this all on tape! You’re gonna sue them!” If we had a “Mike” or “Lee” that was friendly with us, photographed us from a distance, and shared the good photos with us…. well, we might still be suspicious of them. :) But, we don’t have anyone like that.

Those that tape their own encounters know darn well they’re not going to record anything illegal. They’re hoping to record something that will get the officer in trouble, which they hope will then cause their own legal troubles to be reduced or eliminated. And if that doesn’t work, they hope they can be a YouTube hit.
rfburns - 09/15/10 - 21:18

rfburns has some great points above and there is very little else that needs to be said. Perfect post rfburns. Mike, this piece seems to be designed to stir up anti-LEO sentiment. Since I have started doing photography (I will always be a radio geek first & foremost) I have had nothing but good encounters with LEO. When Harkey asked me to drop by the RPD Command post during the NC Fallen FF Memorial services I was given free reign to take as many photos as I wanted: http://bit.ly/cRFoSn.. Main thing is I respect the job they are trying to do and I would never do anything that would make an LEOs job more difficult.
Oh and rfburns: I could be the thin blue line version that compliments the FD/EMS versions of Legeros or Wilson :-)
I have always made my photos available to all!
Marshall Sherard KE4ZNR (Email) (Web Site) - 09/15/10 - 22:03

Marshall, you think the Cato video is more anti- than neutral? It struck me— on single viewing, mind you— as perhaps more even-handed. Though it did try to cover a lot of ground, notably (a.) self-taping by police and benefits therein, (b.) citizen taping of police, and (c.) police response/reaction to citizen taping. The first part was notably interesting for their advocating helmet/hat cams. Now there’s a concept!
Legeros - 09/15/10 - 22:11

@Mike Yeah. Don’t get me wrong I can see what you are talking about as well. Maybe it is because I have seen so many of these studies that end up being a “hit job”. I am all for transparency and when you are out in public no one should expect privacy these days (as rfburns pointed out). Having had LEO friends that have had run-ins with doofuses who have a cellphone camera pulled out trying to instigate/cause situations I guess I am just more sensitive to it. Great topic for discussion though Mike! Thanks for putting this on the blog! I am now gonna do some more research on this and consider all perspectives and point of views.
Marshall Sherard KE4ZNR (Email) (Web Site) - 09/15/10 - 22:17

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