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New Haven Register Asks righttorecord.org About Branford, Connecticut Police and Cameras

Police in Branford, CT will now be wearing cameras on their body to document their encounters with people who are not police. Reporter Michelle Tuccitto Sullo at the New Haven Register called and asked me a few questions about the new policy. You can read her story here. [UPDATE: Fox News CT also interviewed me on the story here.]

I am all for it. I believe the cameras and policy around them will help police and the people they serve and protect. I think the Branford PD has distinguished itself as forward thinking and invested in best methods and practices.

The reporter didn’t capture all of my comments. Most of my comments mirrored that of Captain Geoffrey Morgan, head of Branford PD’s Public Information Office (also in the story). But just to be clear, I’d like to reiterate some of the points I made to the Register that weren’t in the story, and offer a few additional observations.

(More after the jump.)

Points I made that were not included

  • These cameras will help protect police against frivolous lawsuits
  • These cameras will aid in police training, by providing a source of vivid real-life examples for recruits to learn from
  • These cameras will help police and citizens to remember events better
  • These cameras will provide necessary evidence for both prosecutions and civil rights lawsuits
  • These cameras will supplement citizen-videos of officers, providing another point-of-view. They will record an officer’s literal viewpoint, and provide material for the state’s political or legal viewpoint.
  • These cameras will incentivize police to act properly in their duties
  • If a recording goes missing, that will raise appropriate questions, and could bolster a citizen’s credibility vis-a-vis an officer’s

Some points I did not make to the New Haven Register, but would add include

  • Being recorded on the job can be stressful for officers (or anyone), but having a recording in their possession and control makes a recording less stressful
  • These cameras will make officers more comfortable with citizens recording them
  • These recording will he helpful for educating the community about police procedure and policy
  • They’ve had these in many departments in Britain for a long while–not that Britain is a bastion of freedom, but they have been helpful there
  • This is just another step along the line of recording interrogations, which I also strongly support

Possible Downsides?

  • They are fairly expensive to purchase, another cost for taxpayers
  • Police will need training in procedures (when to start recording, how to use the device and store it, how to store video, etc.) , which will cost money and hours of police work-time
  • Police will need to develop new policies on how long to retain videos, when and how to delete them, how to store the video to ensure chain-of-custody, and so on, all of which will cost in hours of police administrator time on likely prosecutors’ hours
  • Some might complain about a privacy issue–I disagree with this, personally, as there is no privacy interest under the Fourth Amendment where an officer is lawfully present
  • There is the question of how to deal with video of an encounter were an officer violates the Fourth Amendment, both inadvertently and purposefully. Is that a private video or a public record? If private facts are disclosed, is anyone liable? And who?

Nevertheless, I see these cameras as a prudent investment and I applaud the Branford Police Department’s forward thinking.

(N.B. I use the word “citizen” as shorthand for “a person who is not a police officer.” but I recognize that police are citizens too, of course.)

[Edit March 17, 2012 at 10:07PM EST: Right to record police activist Carlos Miller points out on his blog Photography is Not A Crime the enormous markup that the manufacturer has made on these cameras: from $200 to $900! It's unfortunate when we have to trade one problem for another. I am still grateful to the Branford PD, but I wish a more economical solution was reached. Carlos also points out that TASER, the manufacturer of Electronic Conducting Weapons, also manufactures out a similar device. Let's hope that the marketplace will work its way out here.

P.S. While you're there, consider donating to Carlos's legal defense fund.]

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