In this month's cover story on Arizona SB 1070, the anti-immigration enforcement bill that's caused a stir in the state, author Jackie Dishner quotes a training video on SB 1070 featuring immigration law expert Beverly Ginn in which Ginn says officers should expect "to be challenged, to be audio and video taped, to be questioned, to be scrutinized."
When I read that, I thought, of course: Most officers should expect that anyway -- regardless of any controversial laws they're enforcing or where their beat is located.
The majority of our citizens are equipped with several pieces of technology capable of recording audio, video and still images. Cell phones, smartphones, digital cameras, iPods, etc. For the most part, I think officers are aware there are a multitude of bystanders ready and willing to grab their recording device of choice and capture what police are doing, wearing and saying at any given time. Depending on the operation or incident at hand, the number and willingness can go up exponentially in tandem.
Consider the headache on Police Chief Frank Limon's hands.
The department in New Haven, Conn., increased attention to the bars and liquor sales establishments in response to a recent shooting. During a raid in a New Haven club in early October, officers allegedly told college students to put away their cellphones or cameras. The accusation came after a nightclub raid over the weekend, and Monday morning the newspaper contacted Limon to discuss the investigation of the raid and ask if citizens are allowed to videotape police (in Conn., they are).
This situation is not unique in the technology available, type of enforcement detail nor public response after citizens claimed they were not allowed to use their recording devices.
I once wrote a story about a sophisticated inmate tracking and surveillance system that kept tabs on residents 24/7 and called it, "Under constant watch." It's not hard to draw the similarities between what was happening in the prison on a microcosm to the nations citizens and police on the greater scale.
If you're going to be recorded, why not from your perspective?
This thought has motivated technologies in recent years. Dash cams have been on duty for years, same for body-worn audio/video cameras such as the VIDMIC from EHS. More recently Taser's AXON system was introduced, which includes an officer's-perspective head cam. These technologies have the ability to show what the officer sees.
Last year during a discussion with a senior management from St. Paul, Minn., he said he believes this ability to record essentially through officers' eyes is going to change law enforcement. I think it already has.
One easy example was brought up while I sat in on a Taser AXON system training session at a small college town in southern Wisconsin. During a demonstration of the video recording quality, a snippet from a fatal shooting at a domestic violence call was shared, which clearly showed the circumstances under which the officers entered the home and what they saw once inside: the armed suspect a few yards ahead. The officer who fired in the fatal shooting was cleared in about three days, after investigators were able to review the video, and a law suit against the department from the family of the deceased disappeared. When the video can show what the officers see, the power of the technology comes back into law enforcement's hands.
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