Mimesis Law
21 November 2019

A Moment of Simple Justice – Cameras on Cops

There’s a lot of talk these days about how putting cameras on police officers chests or hats, belly buttons or dashboards is going to curb police brutality. The idea is that they’ll be somewhat less brutal if they know they’re being recorded. Guess what? It’s pretty effective. If the experience of Rialto, CA is any indication. In the first year after the cameras’ introduction, the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%. That’s huge. But it’s also not a panacea.  Consider New Orleans, where Police Officer Lisa Lewis turned off her body cam moments before plugging Armond Bennet in the forehead. The Police Superintendent in New Orleans called this a “snafu.”  I don’t think snafu means what he thinks it does.

While cameras may be a good tool, and they are, they are not a cure. One, tech doesn’t always work. Two, human error is a problem with all technology. Especially if the error wasn’t exactly an error. After all, it’s hard to argue with the ancient legal doctrine of stercus accidit. What we need is the “missing video presumption.” When the police don’t have it, and should, then they’re responsible. It is presumed against them. Whatever the opposing party would have to say, it is going to be the case if they fail to produce a video and they are supposed to. Believing is seeing, not the other way around.

One of the problems with video is that we are unable to determine if the truth is on the video or the truth is on the witness. In fact, a great many people who argue this point say that the witness’s testimony is more important than what you see on video. So regardless of the existence of video, it’s not going to be conclusive. It’s not going to cure the problem of police engaging in violence against people. But what it will do is go a long way towards fixing something, giving us something to see and stopping lies. So to the extent that it can help, it’s got to be there. But don’t think that that means life is going to be wonderful afterwards. It’s just a camera.

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