Neil Richards on police body cameras

It almost seems like someone at CNN called up Professor Richards and said, hey, we’ll pay you $xxx to write an op-ed piece that is opposed to police body cameras, when really he is in favor of them.   Either that, or I really am not understanding what he wrote, because his conclusions don’t follow from his arguments.

First, he thinks that the date-rape drug detection nail polish is a bad idea.  Not sure how this is even related, other than he wanted more than one tech solution to a crime issue to use as an example.  This sentence is kind of astonishing, all on its own:

Putting aside the irony of asking women to prevent rape by wearing nail polish, the reliance on such a thing puts the burden of preventing rape on individual women in bars rather than focusing on the crime of date rape itself.

Having an option that may help you detect if a specific drug is present is clearly not the same as removing responsibility from the rapists, and society, and video games, and whatever else you want to blame, other than the victim (who would then be in the awkward position of asking for it by wearing nail polish anyway!).  And then:

Too much praise for special nail polish can lead us to ignore the underlying problems of date rape and assume they will just go away.

Does he really believe this?  That’s like saying MADD will stop worrying about drunk driving as soon as new cars have built in driver alcohol detectors.  (hint:  they will not).

Now on to the body cameras.  Prof. Richards does allow that they have shown positive results in controlled settings like prisons, citing an 11 year old research article that interviews police offers regarding public cameras (not body worn cameras).   There is actually a lot more evidence than that, both academic and anecdotal (see comments), in live use, not a controlled setting, and the people on both sides of the camera seem to find value in its use.  On the negative side, he cites revenge porn and Tyler Clementi, who was spied on by his roommate without his knowledge.  Not sure how those things have any relationship to a camera worn in public by a police officer.  In addition, he is concerned about “culture of surveillance” and privacy issues.  He concludes:

Police brutality, profiling, racism and economic inequality are cultural and social problems, and we shouldn’t expect easy fixes like cameras to solve them. … Let’s move away from easy fixes and think hard about real solutions.

He’s right.  Cameras will not solve everything.  But it’s been shown they will help, and not only help the public be protected against police abuse, but also help police be protected from unfounded accusations.  The privacy issues are not trivial, but they will have to be addressed.

Prof. Richards can help.  He is an expert on surveillance and privacy issues.

And his help is needed right now, because Ferguson issued body cameras to all their police officers on Saturday.


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