Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.
It seems there is general agreement that in the case of police body-worn cameras, the technology has gotten ahead of the law. But there is a good argument to be made that the technology has gotten ahead of good sense.
Whatever job you have, imagine that you have to wear a body-worn camera recording what you do all day for your boss to watch. Might you decide to transfer to a company that paid the same and where you didn’t have to wear a camera? I know I would.
In Greensboro, the police don’t turn on the body-worn cameras all the time; actually, they do run all the time but they don’t record except when the record button is hit, and then it starts recording a few seconds before the button was pushed, which is pretty cool technology in itself. The police are supposed to record any interaction with a citizen other than polite greetings or something like giving directions.
That’s still a lot of recording. The Greensboro Police Department recorded 32,820 hours of police body-worn camera videos last year. For the cameras to do any good, someone has to look at all that footage – and not just someone, but someone who knows police policies and protocols. But still, most of us don’t want our boss looking over our shoulder every time we’re doing something where we might make a mistake.
And what is the purpose of the body-worn cameras? Is it training? If it is then at a certain point police officers should be done with training and get to take the cameras off. Is it to make certain the police aren’t doing anything wrong? If police officers have to be watched every second they are interacting with the public then we need new police officers.
Police body-worn cameras are a great tool, but it doesn’t seem that we have figured out how to use that tool properly.
It’s like the early days of computers when some people collected enormous amounts of data but it wasn’t in a form that could be searched, categorized or changed. It was a long list no different than a list on a piece of paper.
I think we are collecting this enormous amount of data from body-worn cameras but don’t know what to do with it. The only use in Greensboro seems to be that Nelson Johnson can find an arrest that he thinks didn’t go by the book, cause the City Council to spend hours of its time hearing about it, discussing it, looking at the videos and finally deciding what to do about it.
So far Johnson has brought three body-worn camera video cases to the City Council and, in one of those – Dejuan Yourse – there has been a big payoff. On the other two, the videos have, according to the City Council, shown that the police acted properly. That’s an amazing record for the police when you consider that Johnson is carefully picking cases where he thinks he can embarrass the police and get some money for his friends.
The police union and a number of police officers who work out on the streets strongly disagreed with interpretation on the Yourse incident by the City Council, who have no police training. Police officers have said that Yourse was giving all the signs of someone who was about to run, and it made sense that Yourse would run. Once he handed his driver’s license to the officer, he knew that she was going to find that he did have outstanding warrants and he was going downtown in handcuffs. The police officer who hit Yourse didn’t know that, but he did know that something was wrong with this person who claimed to be just sitting on his mother’s front porch.
Yourse told one lie after another to the police officers. When he was first asked about the shovel beside him, he said he found it in the yard and brought it up to the porch. It was only when he was told a neighbor had reported that he stuck the shovel under the door of the garage that he admitted having done so.
Many of the police officers out on the street thought the actions of the arresting officers were warranted. The police command staff and the City Council disagreed. It is the job of the upper level police officers to make those decisions for the department; it is not the job of the City Council.
But since the video was available and people were coming to every meeting clamoring for the City Council to view the video, the City Council did.
It wasn’t a good use of the City Council’s time and it isn’t the City Council’s job to make rulings on the individual arrests by police officers. If the video had not been available, the City Council would have been left out of it. But the video was available.
It’s a difficult question. But if the City Council determines it is its job to determine whether each city employee has behaved properly in every situation then perhaps all city employees should have body-worn cameras issued.
Certainly, the city receives complaints about employees other than police officers.
It seems to me that it’s time to back off the police body-worn camera issue until the city can determine exactly why police officers are wearing them and when, if ever, the City Council should view them.
Under the current policy the city only views police body-worn camera videos when Nelson Johnson complains, and that doesn’t seem like a viable city policy.