Crime Technology

Body Cameras in Rochester. 5 questions yet to be answered.

Now that the City of Rochester has accepted a vendor for the body-worn cameras (BWC) City police officers will be wearing, they should now be fully-ensconced in the process of writing up policy documents for their full-time use. This is according to the City of Rochester’s timeline of events here. The City offers many “model policies” as envisioned by the ACLU and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, as well as actual policy docs from similarly-sized cities in the US.

But while we wait for the formal policy document to be announced, I’m left with 5 big questions about what I’m seeing.

#5. Who are the RPD’s policy-writing partners?

The timeline notes that throughout the months of January, February and March, “RPD is working with its partners, to include the Rochester Police Locust Club” to develop a policy document for BWC use in the field. The RPD and the Locust Club – cops and more cops – we know about. Who else? How will the concerns of the public, ably voiced in community input sessions, be represented in policy meetings?

#4. What makes video “evidentiary?”

Standard in the model policies is the clause that video should be kept only if the information contained in it is considered “evidentiary” to an ongoing investigation or trial. This makes sense. But the question is how “evidentiary” is defined, and in relation to what?

If a BWC is used in a traffic stop on East Ave while there is a simultaneous investigation of underage drinking on the same street? Does evidence get stockpiled in the name of the second investigation, at the expense of the people involved in the first?

#3. Under what circumstances can “non-evidentiary” video be reexamined?

The public comments make clear that local residents are OK with keeping video on file that is currently being used in an investigation or trial. They even seem to be OK with allowing non-evidentiary video to be kept on hand. The ACLU recommends allowing non-evidentiary video files to be kept up to 6 months. But why allow the video to remain at all, if there’s no immediate reason to find the video evidentiary? The obvious answer would be to reinvestigate the video in the event that some other crime might be solved with it.

By whose authority is that video reopened? Is a warrant required to reopen the archived video? Some other benchmark? In fact,

#2. Does a subject of a BWC video get notified of the video’s status?

We can guess that the answer to this is, ‘no.’ But that raises more questions. Are we all supposed to just believe that local police have disposed of video? Or can we be informed in keeping with our right to privacy? If there is a reason to keep a tape of a resident beyond the retention policy, that certainly seems like something they should be made aware of, yet doing so just as obviously could endanger important police investigations.

#1. Can policy ever match reality?

We invest a lot of faith in our institutions: it’s a cornerstone of a functional democracy. The effectiveness of local police is no less critically based on faith and trust – even if that trust is tested on a moment-by-moment basis. But a casual read of even the most conservative model policy on body worn cameras reads like a buffet of civil rights violation.

You don’t have to fear the “dirty cop,” the “rogue,” the “out of control sargeant” nor any other made-for-TV cop bad guy to understand that the models seem like a problem. A liberal reading of even the ACLU’s model policy could lead to perpetual video records of Rochester, one side to the other. Unless Rochester’s policy ends up being a lot more conservative than the models, how well or poorly body cameras are implemented is going to come down to trust.

And it’s trust that the body cameras are supposed to improve. A tall order.


What’s Next for Gitmo?

Like almost every Supreme Court decision, the landmark decision handed down yesterday establishing the Writ of Habeas Corpus’ extension to Gitmo raises almost as many questions as it answered.  Newsweek got an exclusive interview with one of the Gitmo lawyers to discuss what the far-reaching effects will be.


About Last Summer: Our Bad.

Hey, Brittan.  It’s us, the United States.  You look good today.

So, yeah.  Remember that whole big flap thing about the “extraordinary rendition,” and how you said that none of our planes used to render prisoners had refueled on your bases anywhere?  Yeah, what a pisser that whole thing was, eh?  With the media and the parliament and all.  So last week. . .   Well, the darnedest thing happened.

Seems some guys down at the State Department accidentally left a box of floppies next to the toaster in the break room, and well, we just found them.  We’re always telling those guys not to bring their office stuff into the break room, but you know how it is, sometimes.  Anyway, it turns out that there may have been one, possibly two, of our planes that refueled in Diego Garcia.

I mean, with a name like Diego Garcia, who would have thought that was one of your guy’s bases anyway, right?  Don’t you guys normally name things like, “Her Majesty’s blah-blah-blah,” and stuff like that? You guys always name stuff after your queen chicks and such, and the English ones, not like the French ones and definitely no Spanish ones, if you have any of those lying around.

Well, the thing is, we know this might be a bit of a bummer for you.  But you guys got a new Prime Minister, so maybe if you just play cool, it’ll all blow over.  If you guys have anyone you need to render, we can totally hook you up, seriously.  Just ask.

We cool?  Awesome.


The March For Justice

Black civil rights leaders are gathering in Washington to demand more responsive action from the Justice Department over what it sees as hate crimes:

Civil Rights Leaders Gather for ‘March for Justice’

Civil rights leaders announced the march last month. They cited the uproar in Jena, La., surrounding three white teens accused of hanging nooses outside a school and the six black teens charged in the beating of a white student. The civil rights leaders believe the federal government should prosecute the noose hanging as a hate crime.

I am struck by two things, here. The first is that I find it incredible that we cannot muster such crowds or such media coverage to end the war.

But the second is: it has become axiomatic that the black community needs to “band together” to fight injustice in our society. When they fail to build a coalition around a topic, the media reports that, well, they failed to “band together” adequately, and that this, therefore, is the reason their cause failed. The discussion rarely seems to be about the rightness of their cause, but rather whether they’ve adequately raised enough of a stink to make change happen.

When I’m slighted, I don’t need to “band together” with my white brothers (gods forbid!). Nor do I need to band together with my Liberal brothers, tech brothers, long-haired brothers, my “guys with beer bellies” brothers, my Rush fan brothers, nor any other demographic group to which I belong. Why is such an obligation put upon the black community?

I guess what I’m saying is: I’d always believed that fairness was an American ideal, not a black agenda.