Meditations on cameras

Apparently there has been some Internet kerfuffle involving officers being videotaped by citizens. Seems some officers get their Hanes all up in a half-hitch about it — to the point of pulling some truly feather-legged stunts.


And I’m asking that question of both sides, by-the-by.

I ask the officers because, well, duh. If you’re not doing anything to be ashamed of, why do you care if someone videotapes you?

The advent of the dash-cam was a turning point in modern police work. It has cleared more cases and exonerated more officers than any other single instrument in history.

The only problem with the dash-cam is that it has a relatively narrow field-of-view … which is fixed. Once the cruiser is parked, the dash-cam can’t move.

And I’m here to tell you, when critters decide to resist, or evade, or get really squirrelly, most of the time it doesn’t happen on the hood of your cruiser.

So, now you have a dash-cam that’s going to follow you, that you don’t pay for, that the tax money of the citizens of your County doesn’t pay for, that pays for it’s own maintenance, supplies it’s own parts … where’s the downside?

Hell, if someone wants to follow me around on patrol with a video camera I’d probably hand him a ride-along sheet and offer to buy him coffee.

Remember, children, even as officers we have the Sixth Amendment right: “to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor.”

Allegations of minor misconduct by officers are on the rise. By “minor misconduct” I mean complaints that officers were unprofessional, or rude, or abrupt, or any number of things that can ding your personnel file.

Hell, I know of a neighboring department that opened a file on an officer because someone complained that the officer “displayed his tattoos in a menacing manner.”

Call it Death by Nibbling Ducks.

And here we have someone with hard evidence that can either show that the allegation is a distortion, is an exaggeration, or is an outright lie; or it can show the totality of the circumstances of the event.

As long as you are abiding by your oaths … like I said: where’s the down-side to this?

As for the citizens …

… I love you to death, I will happily buy you coffee, I will insist that you take this card with the direct line to Infernal Internal Affairs, as well as a map to their lair office, I will probably send you “Thank You” notes — but, I think you’re crazy.

For Freyja’s sake, I hope you never video anything Really Good.

I won’t ask you your name when you first start following me — because it’s not really any of my business.

However, the moment Anything Good happens in your presence, you’re no longer A Citizen, you are A Witness; and it becomes my duty to demand your name, address, and date of birth.

I will not seize your camera — unless someone is heading for the Emergency Room, or room temperature, and even then I’ll probably just wait for the detectives to seize your camera.

And that’s the worst thing I could do to you. I’ll let you noodle about for “Chain of Custody“, but you’re going to learn to hate that phrase.

Another one you’ll learn to hate is: subpoena duces tecum.

Just for giggles some time, look up the Latin translation of that phrase, and understand that judges have no sense of humour at all about it.

My friend, you see that person with the big white grin in the thousand-dollar suit sitting next to the defendant? You know why that suit costs a thousand dollars? Because it has to be specially tailored around the dorsal fin.

When Mama’s Little Dumplin’ who ain’t never done nuffin’ except sing in the choir, deliver home-cooked meals to the disadvantaged, and rescue kittens is accused of resisting arrest/assault on public servant/retaliation against a public servant/domestic violence/drive-by shooting/armed robbery/fill in the blank here …

… your video of the incident, or of the victim, or of the crime scene is going to become an important part of the case against Mama’s Little Dumplin’, because juries just looooove videos.

And the tile-crawling shark defence attorney knows that juries just looooove videos. So he (or she) knows that if he wants to earn his retainer he’s (or she’s) is going to have to get the video either thrown out, or discredited on the stand.

Welcome to the prosecution. This is the witness stand. Yes, that is a bulls-eye on your chest. With appeals and the probably inevitable civil trial, you could be here for years.

Love ya. Shift starts the usual time on Monday. If you’re late, I’ll swing by the Stab-and-Grab on Main every so often so you can catch up.


Let there be light!

18 thoughts on “Meditations on cameras”

  1. I have a friend who is a small-town police chief, his officers initially resisted dash cams, but quickly discovered how many citizen complaints disappeared as soon as the "victims" discovered the interactions were on video…

    That said, even video cams only show a part of what happens, and not what happened before the budding videographer started recording… There was an incident in the late '80's or early '90's in Alabama where a police officer was arresting a resisting suspect and another officer ran up and hit him (as portrayed in the video from a news team). What the video DIDN'T show was the suspect trying to grab the first officer's gun, or that there was another news team present, but the reason the second team didn't have video was the cameraman saw that the suspect was going for the weapon and had put his camera down to aid the officer. The professional victim society was outraged and claiming racism and calling for boycotts of city businesses for a while…

  2. Lawdog I'm with you.

    For the budding crime photog..

    With power (the camera) comes responsibility. That means you make a movie you have the truth and the responsibility to use it for the truth.

    Like all all swords, choose it's use wisely. It can do good but you may be asked to do some honest work. You up for that?


  3. The first widely publicized dashcam video was made in January 1991, by a Constable Darrel Lunsford in Nacogdoches, who simply bought his own camcorder and mounted it on the dash.

    It captured his murder during a traffic stop.

    The killers were caught and convicted based solely on that video, and two of the three were housed at the federal prison where I started working later that same year.

    Cameras are good. They catch criminals

    There are many examples out there of police caught on camera abusing their authority and/or breaking the law.

    Again: cameras are good. They catch criminals.

  4. "tailored to fit around the dorsal fin"

    That line is one in a million. Glad to see you're blogging more LD. Every time I visit my family in Texas I keep a sharp eye out for a LEO with red hair and a South African accent. 'Course, since I keep my nose clean, I don't expect to ever meet you.

  5. Lawdog, as a citizen, I consider it a duty to assist officers if we cross paths. Being a witness doesn't dismay me, that's just part of being a good citizen.
    One question, though; would it get me in trouble to show up in court with a garlic necklace and claim it's to protect me against lawyers?

  6. I know that taping phone lines exonerated me far more often than burning me when I dispatched. I never could understand patrol's resistance to filming & taping.

  7. I'm with the Jedi Knight. Great to see you back on the keyboard. Excellent post. Loved the Victor Borge one too.

  8. I wonder if the, ah, dismay with which some law enforcement officers and departments greet civilian cameras stems from the Rodney King trial and sequella. Only part of the entire episode got caught on tape and we all know how that turned out for everyone involved (and a lot of folks who would rather have stayed out of it). I suspect that is what people are partly worried about – partial recordings or selective editing prior to the video appearing on [website] or in court. Just a thought.


  9. Wife was watching Judge Judy last week and she had a case of a police officer suing because a couple from a traffic stop had filed a complaint. Officer had an audio recording (that's being done now also) of the traffic stop. After excoriating the couple for lying, causing the officer 11 months of problems, Judge Judy awarded the officer 5 grand.

  10. "tailored to fit around the dorsal fin"

    It's only Jan. 7, but this might be the blog line of the year.

    As to the rest, I don't think a lot of people who want to video everything the police (or FD or EMS) do have thought through the ramifications of their filming.

    Of course if it's the media, there might be First Amendment considerations. That depends on what you consider the "media".

  11. Lawdog,

    If you compared incidents of "Mainstream" propaganda press and independent videographers capturing crimes on camera – Which one would show a greater instance of camera seizures?

    How do you explain the difference?


  12. Excellent writing, Lawdog. I am glad you are on the side of virtue and justice.

    Now, if you could come down here to Austin and do some personality transfusion to some of our local LEOs and our Chief.

  13. I hope the detective you speak of gets a warrant before getting grabby, or the detective might be ending the night in handcuffs.

    A warrant/subpoena (depending on whether you're getting grabby with the whole camera or just a copy of the video) is what distinguishes a mugger from an upstanding law enforcement officer, after all.

  14. As an individual with no criminal record who open carries, I never record to entrap a cop, or hassle a cop, or intimidate a cop, etc…. It's a shield- used for my defense when I'm stopped by police. I would be willing to bet that most people who record police have either been falsely accused by a cop, or participate in an activity that might cause police to detain them, seize their property unlawfully, or falsely accuse them of committing a crime.

    People have their reasons.

    Anyway, glad to see police see citizen cameras as something that can help them.

  15. Hah. Dash cams are like the 60's when we got some stuff to deal with such as the right to remain silent and other things. It made us better cops, actually. And I found when I told a goblin that he had a right to remain silent, most of the time he was outraged that he couldn't brag about what he had done. snicker.
    Dash cams work more for us than agin us.

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