Monday, April 8, 2013

Tale of the Tape

            Did the ball cross the plane?  Did the shooter have his foot on the 3 point arc?  Was it a homerun or a double?  Let’s go to the video.  At least, that’s how it works in the arena of professional sports.  And we justify the effort it takes to catalogue every minute detail because there’s so much at stake!  A touchdown, a point, a run—in the end, affect the outcome of the match, and the fate of our team.

            So why not devote the same effort to cataloging your encounters with the police?  Are your civil liberties less valuable than a three-pointer?

            In Rialto, California (a city about 1/6 the size of Baltimore), the police department has begun experimenting with cameras attached to the glasses, cap, or collar of individual police officers.  The cameras are “activated” during any interaction with citizens.  After a year, the experiment showed that the incident of citizen complaints of police misconduct decreased by 88%, and the incident of police using “force” on citizens decreased by 60%.   The conclusion—police and citizens alike act differently when they know their actions are being recorded.

            Many police officers are uncomfortable being recorded.  Many will bully onlookers into shutting off cameras to prevent accounts of police misconduct from being memorialized.  Just look on YouTube.

            The reality is that many criminal cases come down to a “he said, she said” between the arresting officer and the accused citizen.  Sadly, the credibility of a sworn police officer often trumps the credibility of someone accused of a crime by default.  (“He told me I could search the car.” “No, I didn’t.”)  But when there’s a recording of the interaction—the game changes.

            In Maryland, it is perfectly legal to take audio or video recordings of police interactions with citizens.  You may not interfere with the police (“can you move over here to get in the light?”), but you may (and should) document your interactions with them as often and as thoroughly as possible.   So next time you’re pulled over, just flick your phone over to “voice record” and leave it on the dashboard.  Or if your friend is being accosted by the police, record it.  Worst case scenario, you delete the file.  Best case, you have solid evidence of constitutional violations that prevent you or your friend from being wrongly convicted.