Will police officers really agree to wearing video cameras? I read in the business section of the Spokesman-Review last week that the company Taser International has introduced a new line of cameras for police officers. Taser International, Inc. is, of course, best known for Taser guns, and has sold millions of such instruments for police officers world wide. However, my guess is that these new cameras for police officers will be go over like a ton of bricks. The article in the Spokesman explains:
Eighteen of San Jose’s more than 1,300 sworn officers have been trained to use the AXON head cameras as part of a free trial. Other departments are expected to be added to the program. In San Jose, officers are required to switch on the cameras for even routine investigations, such as vehicle stops. … “People have been using (this technology) against us for years, unfortunately only for the bad stuff,” [Officer] Pender said. “So it’d be nice to show our view and our side of what’s going on.” In San Jose, officers are required to switch on the cameras for even routine investigations, such as vehicle stops. At the end of an officer’s shift, the device is placed in a docking station, where it recharges and its content is downloaded and stored on a secure server off site.
The truth is that these sort of cameras are not very popular with police officers or their departments. As you can see from the photo above, the camera wraps around the ear and sits over the officer’s shoulder. So it is like literally having someone looking over your shoulder. And “that someone” is the top brass, the defense lawyers, the tort lawyers, the ACLU, the media, and the general public once the footage gets on TV. Video evidence provides powerful graphic images that a jury can later see. It is one thing for a witness or victim of police abuse to say what occurred, but another thing entirely for disturbing video footage to be presented. While it is widely assumed that having a camera rolling would mean that the police would be on their best behavior, this is not the case. Often times the officer subjectively believes he or she is acting appropriately at the time, but the video often show otherwise. Youtube is full of videos of police officers improperly handling suspects while a dash cam is rolling.
Police officers generally don’t like to be recorded. In the case of State v. Flora, a police officer went so far as to arrest a man who secretly audio-recorded him speaking. The Washington State Court of Appeals held that the suspect was entitled to make such a recording due to the public nature of the encounter. Can people really imagine the police of Spokane County, Grant County, Stevens County etc. wearing these things?
Although the salespeople with Taser Internations are trying to market the recording equipment as popular with police, it is not the police who will like them. Until now, the greatest proponents of requiring the police to record suspect contacts have been civil libertarians. See support from National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, The Justice Project, and ACLU. The other proponents of requiring the recordings are defense lawyer bloggers. See blog posts: Grits for Breakfast, FloridaJustice.com, and Law and More.
The ACLU for years has been critical of the Taser gun (see here). Does anyone else see the irony of Taser Inc. trying to make a buck off something the ACLU supports?
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just greatly limited the use of the Taser gun last week. (See here). Since I read about this new line of Taser products in the business section of the newspaper, let me offer this financial advice: The Taser cam won’t sell. Now is the time to dump your Taser stock.