Author Archives: Stephen Littau

Police should wear body cameras to protect themselves when they’re accused of wrongdoing

camera

President Obama has just proposed $263 million for police body cameras in an effort to improve police relations in the communities they serve. My co-contributor at United Liberty Matthew Hurtt argues that this is an overreaction and cautions that this is “further federalizing local law enforcement.” To this, I have to respectfully disagree.

The federal government has already “federalized” local police if by federalization he means providing military grade toys at a discount. I don’t quite understand how providing tools which can actually protect the public such as body cameras “further” federalizes the police. As long as these departments receive these toys, the public damn well has the right to review in HD quality video and audio how these toys are being used (along with the normal police activities).

The following post was originally published on 8/18/2014 @ United Liberty

 

It sems that there is at least one area of agreement (with caveats) between some in law enforcement and some civil libertarians: cops should wear body cameras. The how, when, and where is still a question for all concerned but at least there seems to be some agreement on the broad outlines.

PoliceOne.com‘s editor-in-chief Doug Wyllie argues that police departments should embrace the idea of body mounted cameras on almost every police officer. Wyllie writes:

In the week following the officer-involved shooting in Ferguson (Mo.), many have asked me for a comment and/or my commentary on the matter. My reply has generally been, “What, precisely, might that comment be? We know very little detail regarding the incident itself, so any ‘analysis’ on my part would be tantamount to irresponsible speculation. Further, analysis of the rioting and looting (and police response to same) would be redundant — we’ve got reams of columns on crowd control tactics and strategies.”

One thing, however, merits mention in this space. It’s directly related to the first thought that came to my mind when news of this tragedy broke: “Man, I hope that officer was wearing a body camera.”

By now, we can correctly surmise that he was not, and it’s a reasonable contention that if he had been wearing a body camera — and that video was examined by agency leadership and released responsibly to the public — Ferguson would probably have been spared the violence and unrest.

Wyllie anticipated that there would be some cops, departments, and PoliceOne members who would disagree with this notion. From there he offered 3 reasons why the upsides outweigh the downsides:

1. Officers’ fears about “Big Brother” are crushed by good, sound policy collaboratively created by all stakeholders — administrators, police unions, civil rights groups, local lawmakers, and others. Citizens’ fears about Fourth Amendment issues — for victims, witnesses, and other uninvolved persons — are similarly crushed by that same policy.

I must interject here. We have street cameras on just about every major intersection in every major city in America. If its good enough to place you and I under constant surveillance, its good enough for the police. The police should also be reminded that they do indeed work for us. Any time the police are on duty and in public, there is a chance that they are being watched by the public. They do not have a right to privacy when they interact with the pubic. This is especially true when the actions of the police have the potential to take freedom or life away from individuals concerned.

Wyllie continues with his other 2 points:

2. Concerns over budgeting for the investment in new gear (and training for same) are quelled by the statistical data suggesting that the outlay in cash is far less than the cost of settling frivolous (and baseless) lawsuits over alleged officer misconduct when no such misconduct occurred.

3. Any argument alleging that “the technology just isn’t there yet” is flat out false. Five years ago, such a statement may have held some water, but companies like TASER International, Digital Ally, L-3 Mobile Vision, and VIEVU now offer rugged, patrol-ready products with high-definition recording capabilities in light, wearable form factors.

Doug Wyllie sees the writing on the wall; he points out that the White House petition for the “Mike Brown Law” which says “all state, county, and local police [should be required] to wear a camera” already passed 100k signatures. Wyllie is probably correct arguing that there would be fewer misconduct lawsuits with the cameras. One PoliceOne member added:

Personally I look forward to being able to show the jury exactly what the POS I arrested was doing, saying and what he looked like when I arrested him; rather than the cleaned up chap in a borrowed suit that the defense brought to court.

I think its also fair to say that cops would be discouraged from being involved with any misconduct in the first place. If we lived in a world where everyone involved in a police encounter is being recorded, everyone involved has every reason to be on his or her best behavior.

Another posted:

I’m all for body cameras. Yet, when they go against what people want them to say, it will be: “The police fixed the cameras.”

To this concern I have two answers. First the technology is already available to determine if a video has been tampered with. If the video shows the video at the 5:07:29 minute mark and then it suddenly skips to the 8:10:12 minute mark, most people are going to understand that there is some missing footage. The second answer is to policy of how, when, and where body cameras will be used.

Will cameras solve all questions of misconduct? Of course not. Cameras certainly have their limitations. But having a video of an event presented to a jury is certainly better than relying solely on conflicting eyewitness testimony.

Point of clarification: One person who commented on the Face Book link mentioned “And audio might be nice.” I assumed Doug Wyllie meant that audio should be part of the video recording as well. After re-reading his article, I realize that he never mentioned anything about audio. Perhaps this too will become a very important part of the debate. It’s my position that audio should be included. Video alone might be helpful in very clear cut cases but distort the meaning of what the viewer sees in other cases.

Quote of the Day: Grand Jury Decision Aftermath Edition

Scott Shackford over at Reason made an excellent point in the wake of the grand jury decision finding insufficient probable cause to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Michael Brown.

Based on the information [St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Robert P.] McCulloch described tonight it may seem unlikely Wilson would have convicted, and perhaps that would have been the right decision by a criminal jury. That raises yet another question, though: Should we be upset at the amount of deference and effort made to find reasons not to indict Wilson in this case or should we be upset that the same doesn’t happen to the rest of us? Is the outrage that a grand jury didn’t indict Wilson or is the outrage that the grand jury indicts just about everybody else?

As far as I’m concerned, my outrage is that grand juries indicts just about everybody else. This jury heard the evidence with all the conflicting testimony and the rest of us have not. I cannot say whether this is a just outcome or not and neither can anyone else at this point. We will most likely never know for sure what happened that fateful day.

I imagine that at least a few of the protesters in Ferguson who have themselves (or know someone who has) been indicted with very little evidence then either strongly encouraged to take a plea deal or were convicted. It’s not to hard to see why some might feel that the criminal justice system works one way for the police and a different way for everyone else, regardless of the specific circumstances in this case (the specific circumstances in this case being all the grand jury should have been concerned about).

‘Selfie Stalker’ Sues Nancy Grace for Defamation

DISGRACE

Judge Dredd wannabe Nancy Grace is finding herself on the defensive as Ben Siebert, falsely dubbed the ‘Selfie Stalker,’ is filing a defamation lawsuit against Grace. Grace, never one to let the facts get in the way of a sensational story to boost her ratings, made no effort to correct her mistake.

The AP reports:

The lawsuit filed Monday in Denver says Grace, who hosts a show on Turner Broadcasting’s HLN network, incorrectly told millions of viewers that Ben Seibert invaded a woman’s home and snapped a photo of himself on her phone, which she described as a “textbook serial killer’s calling card.”

Seibert said Grace humiliated him with her commentary, which went viral on an array of social media sites where readers called him a weirdo, a sicko, a rapist and a pervert. The suit says Grace didn’t check the facts and didn’t care.

Wow, Grace didn’t check the facts and didn’t care? As far as I can tell, this is normal operating procedure for Nancy Grace. It goes something like this:

  1. Accuse an individual of wrongdoing

  2. Use emotional language and imagery

  3. Report only facts which seem to support her theory

  4. Launch into ad hominem attacks against anyone who suggest she is jumping to conclusions or that the accused is innocent until proven guilty

  5. If the facts turn out to be the opposite of what she just knows in her heart to be true, have someone else fill in for a night or two, then act as if the story never happened (under no circumstances apologize or correct the record)

  6. Wash, rinse, repeat

The article continues:

“It hasn’t been easy for him as a result of this,” Seibert’s attorney, John Pineau said.

Denver Metro Crime Stoppers released Seibert’s photo on Jan. 29, after a woman called police saying a man had entered her home while she was putting her children to bed. Police said she was especially fearful because she believed the man had taken a selfie with her phone inside of her home.

But further investigation showed the picture was Seibert’s Facebook photo that had been taken elsewhere. Seibert, who was working in California, called police Feb. 8 after friends told him his photo was being associated with the Denver home invasion. He was not charged.

The same month, police told Grace her broadcast was false, but she continued to air it, according to the lawsuit, which seeks more than $100,000 in damages.

Personally, I think $100k is too low. Nancy Grace needs to be taught a lesson. We all make mistakes. If she had taken steps to correct this error and learned to take a different, more ethical approach to her ‘journalism’ such a lawsuit would be unnecessary. The damage she has done to advance the lay person’s understanding of the criminal justice system, however; cannot easily be quantified.

Self-Ownership, Voluntaryism , and the Non-Aggression Principle as Explained in 2 Videos

In the course of an election year, its very easy to get caught up in the minutia of the various campaigns and election year issues. This is not to say that these issues are trivial; there were very many issues this election cycle which deserved the attention they received.

That said, I tend to think that immediately after an election is a perfect time for reflection. What is it we believe and why? What are our first principles and are we communicating these principles effectively?

I’ve read from various places that we are coming close to a “libertarian moment” or perhaps one is already underway. I do not know one way or the other to what extent this is true but I find that because outlets like Salon, Slate, and Alternet of the Left and a few anti-libertarian outlets on the Right are spending so much energy trying to convince their readers that such a moment isn’t happening quite encouraging. If libertarian ideas were not gaining at least some momentum these outlets would ignore us as in years past.

Of course these outlets do not make any effort to portray our ideas accurately. Its almost as if they go down the list of logical fallacies and hope their readers won’t do any independent research.

So what are the first principles of libertarianism then? This is a very big question, one which libertarians will often disagree. My view is that the first principles are self-ownership, voluntaryism, and the non-aggression principle (fellow TLP contributor Chris Byrne has a slightly different take worthy of consideration).

The videos embedded in this post do an excellent job illustrating these principles, especially for people who are not very familiar with them. The first video, which I have shared on various other occasions, is called “The Philosophy of Liberty.”

Pretty simple right? Share that video with your friends who get their information from Salon. They may still disagree and say that individuals should be looted taxed to promote social justice and egalitarianism but at least they will be exposed to these ideas.

This second video by Stefan Molyneux called “Voluntaryism: The Non-aggression Principle (NAP)” is slightly more advanced taking NAP to its idealistic conclusion (Molyneux is an outright anarchist and makes no bones about it on his podcasts).

Is this all Utopian pie in the sky? Perhaps. Humanity has a long way to go before we can begin to think about beating swords into plowshares. But this does not mean that we can’t each do our part to move in this direction. Upon closer examination, what it really boils down to is following the Golden Rule, only resorting to violence defensively and as a last resort. This principle remains true whether the issue is foreign policy, local policing, or your own home.

Denver Post Editorial Board Responds to Pot Halloween Candy Paranoia With Common Sense

Supposedly, Colorado parents have a ‘unique challenge’ this Halloween. You see, because enough Colorado voters were bamboozled into legalizing pot for recreational purposes in 2012 (in addition to the already legal for medicinal purposes), now parents have to worry about cannabis laced candy in their trick-or-treat bags. There have even been products made available to test questionable candy of the presence of THC.

The editorial board of The Denver Post’s response? Perhaps parents should be checking their little goblin’s candy anyway.

[T]his year should be no different for parents, who should always employ common sense on Halloween. Throw out any unwrapped candy and inspect all packaging before letting your kids gorge on treats.

If the package looks suspicious, tampered with, torn, unwrapped or in unfamiliar packaging, throw out the candy. That should be the same message every year.

Wow, how hard was that? The board also points out that these ‘edibles’ aren’t cheap. The example they use: a package of 10 pot laced gummy bears retails for about $27 before taxes. Who is really going to be that motivated to spend that much money to get strange children high? I suppose it only takes one to start a new wave of ‘Reefer Madness’ circa 2014*.

My bold prediction: there won’t be even one reported case of a child receiving pot laced candy in Colorado.

*Maybe a bit conspiratorial on my part but who would be more motivated to give children pot laced candy, those who are in favor of its legalization or those opposed?

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