Category Archives: Culture

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.

Do Rich High School Dropouts Do “As Well” As Poor College Grads?

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

That’s the claim of Matt O’Brien at Washington Post’s Wonkblog, in a post titled (unsurprisingly), “Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong.” His main point:

Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong. Advantages and disadvantages, in other words, tend to perpetuate themselves. You can see that in the above chart, based on a new paper from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, presented at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s annual conference, which is underway.

Specifically, rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.

So the anger is that some rich dropouts still succeed and make it to the top, and some poor college grads remain on the bottom. Or, to annotate a graph as O’Brien did:

Poor Grads & Rich Dropouts

This, however, is a terrible analysis.

First and foremost, it doesn’t live up to his title. Poor kids who do everything right do quite a bit better than rich kids who do “everything” wrong. Only 20% of rich kids who don’t graduate high school make it into the top 40% of income earners. 41% of poor college grads make it into those upper quintiles. Almost 70% of poor college grads make it into the top 60% of income earners. Only 49% of rich HS dropouts do so. The other half of rich high school dropouts end up in the bottom two quintiles, as you’d expect from high school dropouts.

Now, nobody will argue that poor kids don’t have an uphill battle from day 1. And nobody will argue that rich kids have a multitude of advantages in front of them. Their path to success is easier. There are many reasons for this, and I’m not going to go into them here, but suffice to say that I agree with the simple premise that it’s harder to succeed when you start out poor.

But what the graph that O’Brien uses to prove his point is actually proving that putting your nose to the grindstone, pushing yourself to enter and complete college, is important whether you’re rich or you’re poor. If rich HS dropouts were successful at a higher rate than poor college grads, I might agree with this analysis. But they’re not. Poor college grads do measurably better than rich HS dropouts.

Yes, some poor college grads still end up on the bottom, and some rich HS dropouts still succeed. But how many, and why? Compare the above chart with the below (also from the Reeves/Sawhill paper):

Overall mobility

Social Mobility Matrix, US Overall

In this chart, you can see that the bottom quintile–60% of them, in fact–stayed in the bottom two quintiles. Only 23% made it to the top two quintiles. And the top quintile–56% of them–remained in the top two quintiles. Only 25% fell to the bottom two quintiles. So overall, completely outside of any educational data whatsoever, the bottom remained on the bottom and the top remained on the top.

But if you’re poor, and you graduate college, you flip the script. Your odds are very good to go from the bottom quintile to middle class or better. And if you’re rich but don’t graduate college, your odds are better that you’re going to end up in lower middle class or worse. It won’t hold true for everyone, as there are strong cultural factors in play. But those cultural factors are not overwhelming. Demography DOES NOT equal destiny.

That’s meritocracy.

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.

That Really Grinds My Gears

grindmygears

You know what really grinds my gears? Partisan hacks who attack members of the other party based on nonsensical and silly things that really do not matter in the grand scheme of things. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this. The most recent example of partisan stupidity came when President Obama wore a traditional Chinese outfit to the 2014 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit, which was hosted by China. President Obama wasn’t the only attendee to dress like this. All of the participants wore the same outfit. In fact, the APEC Summit has a longstanding tradition of attendees wearing traditional clothing that represents the host country. In case you missed it, here is the outfit from this year’s APEC Summit:

obama-xi-purple

To Americans, the outfit may look a little silly. Does it look  little like something Dr. Evil would wear? Maybe. Does it look like something out of Star Trek? Yes. It’s okay to point these things out and get a little laugh. I have seen people joke that President Obama is missing his communicator pin. Others have said that the participants in the group photo look like they are about to be beamed up. Heck, the other day I made a comment that “at least they didn’t give him the red shirt.” Anyone who is a Star Trek fan will get the reference that those who wore the red shirts were the ones to get killed off. Statements like these are all in good fun.

However, I have to draw the line at people who attacked the president and his character based on the outfit. Here are a few examples of attacks that I have seen throughout my Facebook and Twitter feeds over the past few days:

  • He looks like a Communist dictator.
  • How un-American!
  • What a disgrace! I can’t believe that he would wear something like this and on Veteran’s Day no less!
  • Obama is a disgrace to our troops.
  • Ronald Reagan never would have worn something like this.
  • Ted Cruz would never wear something like this.
  • No real American would ever wear something like this.

Seriously? Do we have nothing better on which to attack the president other than his outfit? I even saw one post to someone referring to his outfit as “Kenyan.” Kenya? As mentioned before, it is tradition for participants to wear the cultural outfits of the host nation. So is this any less American?:

kerry-bali-dancer_2695290c

How about this one? Is this un-American?

Bush APEC

Does this one embarrass the troops?

APEC Bush

The fact is that there are a lot of issues on which we can attack President Obama. There are much more important issues such as the looming national debt, net neutrality, Common Core, immigration reform, the escalation of troops in the Middle East, the handling of the economy, Obamacare, etc., etc., etc. So let’s focus on the policy debate and leave the silly personal attacks behind. We may be able to accomplish more. And that, folks, is what really grinds my gears.

Just in good fun, I leave you with this picture of Ronald Reagan wearing a poncho and sombrero:

Reagan sombrero

Albert holds a J.D. from Barry University School of Law as well as an MBA and BA in Political Science from The University of Central Florida. He is a conservative libertarian and his interests include judicial politics, criminal procedure, and elections. He has one son, named Albert, and a black lab puppy, named Lincoln. In his spare time, he plays and coaches soccer.
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