•  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

As respect of civil liberties by police continues to be called into serious question nationwide, the Philadelphia Police Department is coincidentally beginning a pilot program to protect citizens’ rights: cameras mounted on police recording each interaction cops have with citizens.

Ironically, surveillance in this sense helps individual rights tremendously. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey told The Philadelphia Tribune that recording these interactions dramatically reduces complaints against police. After all, Ramsey insists, everyone’s behavior seems to change when they know they’re being recorded.

That is, everyone’s behavior changes if they know they’re being recorded unless they’re police in Ferguson, Missouri, based upon recent headlines.

Still, the move is a good one for civil liberties. A serious problem with these cameras exists, though: In the absence of strict controls, cops can start or stop the recording whenever they want. And, inter-department directives, guidelines, or memos telling police to always record encounters don’t really solve the problem, either.

Earlier this year, New Orleans began rolling out police body mounted cameras to protect civilians and police alike. At that time, police and civil libertarians alike cheered the move, but the civil liberties folks added a big caveat to the proposal: Police need to either be forced to record at all times or somehow be compelled to never not record. SEPTA transit police are dealing with a body camera program, too.

Their concerns proved to be prescient. Just several days ago, a New Orleans Police Department officer was engaged in a shooting with a suspect. Curiously, her body camera was turned off and the shooting was not reported by the NOPD as they are required to doThe Washington Post‘s Radley Balko, a columnist regularly advocating for stronger civil liberties protections, argues that these camera programs must have controls and civilian oversight.

Balko insists that we not only should have public access to these videos but that citizens “need to ensure police agencies implement rules requiring officers to actually use the cameras, enforce those rules by disciplining officers when they don’t and ensure that the officers, the agencies that employ them, and prosecutors all take care to preserve footage, even if the footage reflect poorly on officers.”

Here in Philadelphia, the body mounted cameras are simply being tested at this point to see what they’re like, writes Larry Miller for the Tribune. “Ramsey said the department isn’t buying the equipment,” Miller writes, “just testing it, which could happen either by the end of this year or early in 2015.”

 

About The Author

Contributing columnist

Josh Kruger is an award-winning writer and commentator in Philadelphia. His @PhillyWeekly column, “The Uncomfortable Whole,” took the 2014 First Place Spotlight Award for weekly newspaper commentary from the Society of Professional Journalists and the 2014 Second Place Award for weekly newspaper commentary in the United States and Canada from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia. He also blogs daily for PW on various topics including queer culture and news, mass transit, politics, crime, drugs, HIV/AIDS, civil liberties, activism, media and everything else Philly.

Leave a Reply

Login with your Social ID

Your email address will not be published.