Commentary and information about public safety and security, intelligence and counterintelligence, open government and secrecy, and other issues in northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

Location: Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, United States

Raised in Palouse, WA. Graduated from Washington State University. US Army (Counterintelligence). US Secret Service (Technical Security Division) in Fantasyland-on-the-Potomac and Los Angeles. Now living in north Idaho.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

So...What's the Problem?

Reporter Annie Linskey's February 13, 2008, Baltimore Sun article headlined Cameras turn lens on police activities says that some Baltimore police officers are upset their actions are being caught on video by citizens with cameras.

Why? What's the problem?

The police could have made a good argument that if someone with a weapon-sized object in his hand shows up at a serious or violent crime in progress, that person could distract the police. A camcorder held in one or both hands at eye height can easily and reasonably be misinterpreted to be a handgun. If the cameraman distracts the officer’s attention from a target with a real weapon, the officer’s safety is jeopardized. The officer’s choices have both been doubled. Instead of one possible target/threat, he has two. Which one is the more viable threat? In less than the time it took to read that last sentence, the officer can become either a shooter or a victim. The police could have made that argument, but they didn’t.

As long as the camera wielding citizens are not creating a threatening distraction, compromising ongoing investigations, or directly interfering with the officers, the officers have little to worry about.

As the article noted, citizen videos ought to result in law enforcement agencies paying closer attention to citizen's complaints. The videos may show officer misconduct, but they may also show its absence.

Videos help hold people accountable for their actions. The police have been using undercover videos for decades now to hold criminals accountable and to impeach criminals when they testilie. Time and again dashboard video cameras on patrol cars have substantiated officers’ proper conduct and refuted unsubstantiated allegations against them.

The police may be uncomfortable by being on camera, but turning the lens 180 degrees to enhance police accountabilty is appropriate. If they don't have anything to hide...


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