Ubiquitous Surveillance, Police Edition

| Thu Aug. 22, 2013 9:48 AM EDT

In the city of Rialto, about 50 miles from where I live, every police officer is now equipped with full-time videotape capability. The New York Times reports:

It is a warning that is transforming many encounters between residents and police in this sunbaked Southern California city: “You’re being videotaped.”....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.

....“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.”

....William J. Bratton, who has led the police departments in New York and Los Angeles, said that if he were still a police chief, he would want cameras on his officers. “So much of what goes on in the field is ‘he-said-she-said,’ and the camera offers an objective perspective,” Mr. Bratton said. “Officers not familiar with the technology may see it as something harmful. But the irony is, officers actually tend to benefit. Very often, the officer’s version of events is the accurate version.”

I imagine that in the fairly near future, convictions will be all but impossible without videotape evidence. Likewise, complaints of police brutality will become almost prima facia credible if videotape of the incident mysteriously goes "missing." All in all, this is probably a good thing. But I wonder if courts will eventually rule that all police videotape, like all 911 calls, are public record?

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