Posts Tagged ‘police’

Taser International Creates Video Cameras for Law Enforcement – But Do the Police Want Them?

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-axon_1 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,, 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.

Washington State Fraternal Order of Police and the Ethics of Car Decals

I received a robocall from the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police today that really makes me wonder about the ethics of that organization.  While it is always annoying to receive an automated telemarketing sales pitch, this call was particularly offensive in that it offered to send or deliver a sticker for my car window if I made a donation.   Why would anyone offer you a sticker for your car?  Why not offer a sticker for your refrigerator, or home window, or lunchbox?  Well, what the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police is seemingly offering is the implicit promise that you would receive lenient treatment the next time you get pulled over for a traffic infraction.   Yuck.  That is pretty sleazy in my opinion, and I would hope that officers would not be swayed by such a sticker.  As a prosecutor, I always hoped that the police enforced speeding laws evenly and fairly.  Whenever I was pulled over, I would not identify myself as a prosecuting attorney to try to get out of a ticket.  That just seemed tacky.

When I checked out this Washington State Fraternal Order of Police “charity” online, I did not like what I saw. According to the listing with the Secretary of State, only 20% of any donation goes to program services.  Other police charities, such as Concerns of Police Survivors Inc. at 80%, have much higher levels.

I haven’t been the only person to complain about the Washington State Fraternal Order of Police, there is a site that tracks complaints on this group.

What do people think?  Am I missing something about this group?  Am I wrong about what the group implies by offering a sticker?  Does anyone know of a more reputable charity that people can donate to in order to support the police?

Spokane Law Enforcement Rally Behind Officer Karl Thompson

I noticed in my years working as a prosecuting attorney that police officers often had a rather black-and-white view of the world.  It was good versus evil, with not a lot of in between.  They did not seem to wonder too often if a person charged was truly guilty – it was usually assumed.   I don’t think I ever heard it questioned whether a defendant was receiving a fair trial, or if the media was giving the accused a fair shake.  Then, on June 22nd, 2009, it was announced that Office Karl F. Thompson was being charged in federal court with two felonies related to the death of Otto Zehm, the mentally disabled janitor the police beat and tased at Zip-Trip while he bought a soda on March 20th, 2009.   As that indictment was handed down, I kind of wondered what response the police community would have to Karl Thompson’s indictment.  Would they explain his actions away as those of one bad apple, or would they rally in his defense?

THOMPSON PICWell, I received my answer this week when I noticed online that Karl Thompson’s supporters had created a Face Book “fan page” for him.   The page promotes the sale of bracelets for $10 each.  The page blames the media for making Karl Thompson a “media scapegoat,” but then writes: “Thanks to the story in the Spokesman-Review, demand for the wristbands has increased.”  As of today, the page had almost 230 fans.

See news story about indictment:

I will continue to follow the case of U.S. v. Karl Thompson, as well as the civil suit the family of Otto Zehm as brought against Karl Thompson and the City of Spokane.   The Center of Justice in Spokane has a website about Otto Zehm. A central issue in both the civil case and the criminal case will be Thompson’s compliance with Spokane County’s use of force policy. The policy authorizes varying level of force depending on the threat that the police encounter. Creates a legal pleading

When interviewed by police officials, Karl Thompson admitted that Otto Zehm did not try to strike him, but explained that Zehm refused to drop the plastic bottle of soda he was carrying. Thompson stated that he feared the two-liter bottle could be used as a weapon.  When interviewed, Thompson explained that the learning-disabled Zehm responded “why?” when Thompson told him to drop his soda.  Thompson explained that he struck Zehm first in the leg with the police baton trying to knock him to the ground. The store video in Zip Trip is partially obscured by the store shelves but it shows the officer standing over Zehm from behind.

Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking:
Law Office of Steve Graham
1312 North Monroe Street, #140
Spokane, WA 99201
(509) 252-9167
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