The North Tonawanda Police Department recently joined numerous police forces nationwide that equip their officers with video cameras. The Patrol Division is now mandated to use an On-Officer Video Recording System during all law enforcement encounters with the public. At the end of every shift each officer is supposed to upload the videos to a web-based storage facility where they can be reviewed by supervisors and saved for evidentiary purposes.
This brand of reality TV is something relatively new to policing and it represents its future, not only locally, but nationwide, too. It’s a disconcerting development, because with these almost incognito cameras attached to their lapels or breastplates, police will have a mobile police state – a portable Big Brother – with them on patrol, not only on the streets, but in your homes as well.
We as citizens have a certain expectation of, and a Constitutionally-recognized right to, privacy. That expectation, as well as our faith in our trusted officers, will be tested by these cameras. Now, when a lone officer is welcomed into one’s home it won’t be just him that the citizen will be interacting with; it will be the extra sets of eyes that will be viewing the footage later, folks who may be less accommodating than the patrolman and could initiate a police action based upon what the camera may have picked up in the background – be it a legally-owned firearm in the corner of the room, a shady looking individual, or the presence of a vice like alcohol or marijuana. It’s like having government spying on your home.
That aforementioned trust in our local patrols – and theirs in us - will be forcibly breached by the cameras when it comes to routine traffic stops and other policing. Quite often, depending on the temperament of the person driving a speeding car or teens partying too loudly, a cop will be a good ambassador for the force and reprimand them, giving them a slap on the wrist or a lesser citation. It gives citizens the respect they deserve (instead of treating them like hardened criminals) and it strengthens the bond between peacekeepers and the community at large. Because of the camera, such goodwill will be gone: Officers will now have to play by the rules and issue tickets to the full extent of the law, because failure to do so could have their performance questioned by supervisors.
Even police will we be victims of the police state.
Once it becomes common knowledge that patrols are outfitted with cameras, one can imagine that real criminals will test the resolve of officers. Degenerates will grow “camera muscles”, knowing that anything an officer does to them – whether verbally or physically – is on record. Fearing the retribution that comes with alleged abuses and the perception thereof, patrolmen will be forced to act in an emasculated manner, giving perps the upper hand. The indecisiveness and the hesitation to act that comes with the presence of Big Brother has the potential to put the officers and the common man at risk if the situation escalates to a point that would have been remedied had the camera’s burden not been there.
The police will also lose some of their best friends – the concerned citizens who come forward with information and observations. Under most policies, patrolmen cannot activate the camera to record informants or undercover officers. But, under this definition of informant, it is an individual known as an “accredited” provider of information to the police -- a plant, if you will. Regular citizens aren’t afforded the same protection and even if they were, they would be hesitant to speak up, knowing their face and their words were being recorded and could be used as evidence in a court of law. In a day and age like this, when we have gangs who relish killing and don’t care who they kill, it wouldn’t be out of the question that a thug could order a hit from his jail cell on the person who ratted on him. Because of this very real fear and equally real threat, officers will have a tougher go at collecting info and completing crucial investigations.
As we’ve seen with New York City and its endless supply of cameras, citizens and officers alike will have a heck of a time bringing about the demise of the on-officer cameras, even with the Constitution on our side.
There is one loophole, though, that could offer salvation. New York law requires single party (not dual) consent when it comes to video surveillance. What if the citizen doesn’t consent and the officer doesn’t either, but is forced to under department regulations? That makes it illegal, doesn’t it?
Gasport resident Bob Confer also writes for the New American magazine at TheNewAmerican.com. Follow him on Twitter @bobconfer
This column originally appeared in the 08 April 2013 Greater Niagara Newspapers