Diary

Missouri State Rep Courtney Curtis Turns to Change.org to Require Vest Cameras

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Ferguson native and Missouri State Representative (Democrat, District 073) Courtney Curtis started a petition on change.org, the McDonalds drive-through of hassle-free activism, to require Ferguson PD officers to wear body cameras.

…I’m still a young black man who has encountered problems with the police. Five years ago, while waiting for a college friend of mine in his gated community in Kansas City, I was handcuffed, had my car searched against my will and was almost arrested. My crime? Sitting on the back of my car, working on my business plan, while waiting for a friend. I filed a complaint. No action was ever taken.

Fast-forward five years. I was pulled over for supposedly having a broken tail light. After the police officer runs my ID, he comes back and says the tail light is back on. Must have been a short, he says. Three days later, an unarmed Mike Brown was killed in the street. One incident brushed under the rug, another goes horribly wrong.

Okay, Courtney, so your taillight (for which you weren’t cited, right?) is proof of police profiling, and lines up completely with the story of Michael Brown—you’d seriously have us believe that?  It’s silly.

Police departments are using or testing on-body cameras and they’re reportedly reducing police misconduct. When the Rialto Police Department in California adopted cameras, the number of complaints filed against officers fell by 88 percent and the use of force by officers fell by almost 60 percent.

Maybe—possibly—people seeing body cameras are not as likely to try to resist and then claim police brutality.  This could be a good thing.

There are still so many things unknown about Michael Brown’s death it’s astonishing. And still more change is needed for a true eradication of the types of problems that led to Michael’s death. But one thing we can control and do right now is to create accountability – for both police and citizens – with a digital record of what happens when a police officer interacts with a citizen. Vest cameras won’t solve all of our problems – but they will be a good start – and will create an accurate record of what happens.

What’s known about Michael Brown’s death is pretty well documented.  Eyewitnesses, forensic, including audio, evidence backs up the grand jury decision.  I am not sure how much a vest camera would have added, except to avoid the entire mess altogether.

I am not sure vest cameras is the most efficient idea for police.  Dash cams have been around for a long time and haven’t really increased accountability, for other than chase situations, and the fact that they make great internet videos.  There remain many questions about vest cameras:  who will pay for them (taxpayers)?  Who will review the video?  What procedures about preserving the video will have to be developed?

I think vest cameras could be a positive, but also could be a huge negative.  For the next “Ferguson” (and there will be one), the pressure to release the video publicly would be enormous.  Armchair quarterbacking of a live replay won’t change anything, in the end.

I believe that if officer Wilson was wearing a vest camera, nothing would have changed:  he would have shot Michael Brown, and we’d see it on video.  People who want to believe that Brown was killed in cold blood would still believe it.  Tony Stewart’s fatal crash killing Kevin Ward was captured on video, and it didn’t change the endless speculation about Tony’s motive or lack thereof.  People who have a bias usually cling to it.

In any case, I don’t see this petition gaining much traction, despite 100,000 signatures.  Change McNuggets might taste good but they don’t have much real substance.

Open thread on vest cameras.