Editorial Comment

Cop Cams now a Necessity

We have all seen it on the news; a policeman, maybe a group of them, charged with violence against a citizen. It is only very rarely a police woman. There are no witnesses besides other law enforcement officials. In court it becomes an argument of which side to believe. The judge has to decide between the testimony of a police constable who is, like the magistrate, an agent of the government or accept instead the word of some guy off the street. Bear in mind, the police officer and the judge are often familiar with one another from constant exposure through work, and both represent authority and power. The citizen only represents himself and obviously has a bigger vested interest in the outcome than just another arrest to his credit or a judgment in the books. The playing field is not exactly even.
    There is a way to level it, however, with a simple solution that will make a huge difference. It would not just be of benefit to citizens who are in a “my word against theirs” situation with a police officer, but would also benefit the patrolman, the reputation of the entire force, the judiciary and the public. That solution is the “lapel cop cam” of which, the technology is already being used in many jurisdictions in the United States including Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina and a number of others. Surely we in Canada can be as enlightened as the average Texan.
    It is glaringly obvious that cops equipped with LCC’s would provide far more context to those citizen-shot smart-phone movies involving altercations with members of the constabulary. When an Internet video of a cop beating on some guy goes viral, no one other than the combatants really knows what led up to the struggle. A video would show what caused the situation to escalate to the point where, what appears to be brutality in a seconds-long video, could be better understood. 
    The LCC isn’t just a good idea, it has become a necessity. The public perception of the RCMP’s reputation has been eroding steadily, taking a marked drop after the Robert Dziekanski tasering incident at the Vancouver Airport. In fact, according to a Postmedia Ipsos Reid poll conducted last year, the percentage of Canadians that trust the upper management of our national police force has plummeted to a concerning 46%. To their credit, people had more faith in the frontline officers to the tune of 67% but that still means a third of our nation that are served by the RCMP do not trust the members. Widespread mandated LCC use would do a lot to change that, although it might not necessarily be for the better. It would however, give a truer picture of what a cop is facing when entering a sticky situation.
    You see, here’s the thing about cops; they are human beings.  All the training in the world won’t completely cover every eventuality. Actions taken when a policeman is in fear for his own life with adrenaline coursing through his body, should be examined through that prism and LCC technology would do exactly that. If a police officer is behaving in society’s best interest, on his shift, he will be exonerated.
    Another aspect to this issue is that some may say having your employees wired for video throughout their shift is an invasion of their privacy. The fact is that closed-circuit cameras are becoming more and more plentiful in the public sphere anyway and no one outside their homes can be assured of being unobserved. If the citizens are going to be watched, shouldn’t the agents of the government be watched? As human beings, they also have ulterior motives they bring to their jobs.  They have same hidden agendas  the citizens they arrest often have; driven by greed, lust, power, revenge. I am shocked by the number of people that have told me they had been doing nothing wrong but were beaten by police. These are people I know, not criminal underworld types. There is no excuse for a group of cops to take anyone to a secluded area for a beating. This isn’t supposed to be a police state. 
    “They probably had it coming,” you might think. This is a preposterous position, of course. Assault is against the law and those we hire to uphold the law are not above it. Again, an LCC would prevent this if the protocols surrounding their use are stringent enough. They should not be allowed to just shut them off at their whim.
    I suspect there would be a lot of pushback from Canadian police forces to this initiative. Power loves secrecy. As a free and open democracy, however, we can’t afford to allow the disciplinarians of society to fall from their position of trust. We do not want vigilantism in our society. We need to know our police force is fair and above reproach. What better way than to have daily video evidence of their diligence and professionalism. The videos would easily weed out those who do not display such traits. This is why it is feared by police unions but would be welcomed by the public. If I were an honest cop, however, I would welcome it for my own security and dignity.
    One more advantage to the LCC system would be that police would no longer feel compelled to harass citizens by taking their phones from them to hide police behaviour. If they are cammed already, they won’t care. Police improperly confiscating cameras is another rampant problem that must be addressed and the LCC would, again, be the answer.
    Given the need for this technology and the benefits to both police and society, we must not delay implementing LCC use for all constabularies in Canada.

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