Nomination for Hero Badge

That didn’t take long; body cams on police are apparently too much of a good thing. Maryland politicians are proposing a state law to restrict access to police recorded video. They cite “privacy considerations.”Baltimore-pushes-privacy-provisions-police-body-cams-wait.

I might have more sympathy had they expressed reservations because of 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendment issues, but everybody knows that the Constitution has outlived its usefulness. Instead, they are concerned with an individual’s right to privacy, bad idea.

Two points will demonstrate why it is a bad idea and why these yahoos feel the need for such legislation.

  1. Most police/civilian interactions take place within a public place or in the public view. Whatever a police video captures is fair game for a casual passerby. In those instances where the contact takes place outside of public view the camera is there because the police are there. You can’t get one without the other. If this were a violation of a “right to privacy” then no recording should be made at all. If the police are constantly turning the camera on and off, then the whole purpose of body cams is lost.
  2. Ask anybody that you know about the relationship between the police, local governing body overseeing the police, District Attorney, and Courts. My guess is that the view would be, that the criminal justice system is just that, a monolithic system marching lockstep towards the cause of justice. This would be incorrect. That these legislators perceive the need for “privacy protections” confirms my view that the criminal justice system is not monolithic. What are these guys complaining about? What do they want?

In two words, control and avoidance of responsibility.

In previous blogs addressing police video, I have pointed out the conflict between the “peoples right to know,” “the press’s right to sell toilet paper and tampons,” and “the right of the accused to a fair trial.” How does one prioritize?

There happens to be a mechanism in place, it has worked for over 200 years. The “rules of evidence” is a body of law that describes what evidence is. It gives guidelines on how it is to be collected and preserved and when and how it can be presented in court. The rules of evidence address the weight and relative value it should be given. Discovery describes how and when it should be disseminated to involved parties. Included in the rules of evidence are guidelines regarding investigative work product and attorney-client privilege.

The problem in invoking investigator privilege is that it can be claimed, modified, revoked and reinstated by different people at different times. Patrol officers typically no nothing about anything. Investigators will push the the decision making higher. If a public information officer (PIO) is involved whatever he comes was cleared by somebody else. The DA may have a standing policy, but until the DA gets a look at the case it is kind of hard to make a decision where the decision maker is help responsible.

Seems pretty clear, why even discuss a new law? Control and avoidance of responsibility. Las Vegas is a good example. The department probably has a thousand hours of body cam footage. It would be easy for the Sheriff to declare all of the body cam footage as investigative work product knowing that Nine hundred and ninety hours is redundant and has no evidentiary value. As investigative work product, the body cam footage would not be released. Instead, the department released the vast majority of footage. The District Attorney could have overruled the Sheriff, but didn’t. The District Attorney can still make a judgment contrary to the Sheriff’s regarding the unreleased footage and order it released. I suppose the mayor could have gotten involved but has had the good sense to keep his mouth shut and head down.

Had a controversy ensued over the release of the footage, then the press would have had a single person to point to; the sheriff… the District Attorney… Follow Maryland’s proposed model and what you get is, “the law says, otherwise I’d do it or not as the case may be.

I see a second reason for wanting to control the access and distribution of police body cams. The body cams have revealed that there is not the wholesale abuse that police critics had claimed. That certain protected shades may be their own worst enemy, in escalating a situation that spirals out of control. We need to control police body cams do not support the biased narrative. A related possibly the third element is self-preservation for the politicians, will they work a way to keep drunken disheveled politicians out of the public eye?