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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Today in the Surveillance State: The Virtues of Police Cameras

Posted by BRENDAN KILEY on Thu, Aug 22, 2013 at 1:59 PM

Surveillance is inevitable—I don't write about it because I think there's any real chance of it going away, but because the smarter we are about how we let it get introduced into our lives (and the more we know about how it's being introduced without our participation, permission, or consent), the better off we'll be down the road. That's the hope, anyway.

So here's a nugget of hopefulness about the effects of surveillance cameras in Rialto, California:

In the first year after the cameras were introduced here in February 2012, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent compared with the previous 12 months. Use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent over the same period.

And while Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg railed against the federal court, which ordered New York to arm some of its own police officers with cameras, the Rialto Police Department believes it stands as an example of how effective the cameras can be. Starting Sept. 1, all 66 uniformed officers here will be wearing a camera during every shift...

“When you put a camera on a police officer, they tend to behave a little better, follow the rules a little better,” Chief Farrar said. “And if a citizen knows the officer is wearing a camera, chances are the citizen will behave a little better.”

Here's the question—should those camera images stream directly onto some publicly accessible platform? That'd be the real way to democratize surveillance and to change police behavior. If we can be watched by law enforcement at any given time, and without our knowledge, why shouldn't we have the option of watching back?

Corollary: All police firearms should be equipped with cameras that automatically begin filming as soon as the gun's safety is switched off. If a public servant is firing the public's bullets out of a public gun, the public has every right to see exactly where those bullets are being aimed.

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