Cop Cams

So, my friend Clint is always posting on Facebook about various abuses of power that the police get involved with – and there are quite a lot of these. As most of us know, power corrupts, and carrying around a  gun and a badge seems like a pretty clear case of having some power. After many discussions with Clint and some brain-wracking, I’ve concluded that there is a technological solution that, if it doesn’t eliminate police abuses of power, would at least curtail them somewhat.

Cops should carry video cameras – tiny, unobtrusive, built into their uniforms, badges, or something similar – that stream video in real time over the cellular data networks to their dispatchers and to a DVR. The recorded video should be cryptographically signed such that removing a single frame or series of frames would be a significant challenge. In addition, the dispatcher should have the ability to crank up the res, activate IR illuminators, etc to improve image quality at the cost of bandwidth and cam battery life for cops that are currently actively engaged in some sort of incident i.e. arrest.

This would have several good effects:

1) If a citizen accused a cop of abusing their power, or for some other reason we ended up with a cop vs. citizen debate, there would be a video log of whatever happened that would help decide who was telling the truth

2) Dispatchers could evaluate the current situation of any cop much better than they are able to with a voice channel – they could decide how much backup to send, and what types of units – if a cop were injured and unable to call for backup (i.e. had a heart attack or a stroke) they could see that the cop was down and call the appropriate assistance onto the scene

3) ‘Black screen’ – the video channel would also serve as positive confirmation that dispatch was still in contact with the cop in question, something which isn’t always clear with conventional analog cop-radio equipment. (Of course, by now, they’ve probably gone to digital links everywhere anyway ;-))

All of the technology to do this already exists and is in use in many other industries. With widespread deployment and use of existing data RF nets, these cameras could be extremely cheap – $200ish per cop, plus $50ish per month for the data service is my guess. As the budget crunch is felt, more and more cops may be sent out solo instead of in partnered teams, making communications with dispatch much more important. Also, right now there is a negative feedback circuit going on where the cops are clearly (by news reports) abusing their power more and more, which leads to the citizens being more hostile to the cops because they don’t trust them – which leads to the cops feeling more justified to abuse their power – and so on, and so forth. I think knowing that the cops had video that would be shown to the judge in case of a lawsuit or arrest, and that they were accountable to people besides their cop-structure that seems inclined often to protect them at the cost of citizens, would help the cop-citizen relationship considerably. And I really do think that it would make the cops safer, besides, so aside from the additional cost – which isn’t that large in the grand scheme of things – it seems like a win-win.

One Response to “Cop Cams”

  1. ClintJCL Says:

    Technically, I’m posting to twitter and the twitter app is crossposting it to facebook. (I only say this because you probably appreciate such subtle nuances, hehe.) It’s also on my LJ, and becomes my links-of-the-day daily blog posts.

    The thing is, it will take more than cameras. There are tons of cops caught abusing on camera who still remain cops. It will also take a lot of citizen vigilance, voting, lobbying, waking the people who are asleep up, etc. But I agree this would be a positive step and is definitely needed!!

    Here are all my links relating to police & cameras — at the very least you might want to check out the “pistol cam” link posted on 16 Jul 08, but there are other interesting things in there too:

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