Will Body Cameras On Police Help To Quell Abuse Or Will It Lead To A Police State?

When I read Orwell’s 1984 30 years ago I never felt like it was that unrealistic. When Edward Snowden released information on the spying that the NSA was doing on American Citizens I wasn’t particularly surprised by that either. As more and more police brutality is caught on camera and published on youtube, well that was to be expected as well. In modern times, almost every US citizen has the ability to record anything they are seeing and with only a press of a button can upload it for the world to see. Within minutes, it can go viral and if the abuse is serious enough then the world can raise its voice in outrage. This is honestly a very good thing.

Just because you don't have anything to hide doesn't mean you shouldn't be interested in your privacy.
Just because you don’t have anything to hide doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be interested in your privacy.

The thing that really took me by surprise is my reluctance to write this article. Typically in life I use my fear as a compass as that fear will often point me to the path of personal growth. Knowing that the government and powers at be are watching do I really want to write this article at all? There could be repercussions, I could end up on ‘the list’. The thing is that I’ve already been on ‘the list’ as right after 9/11 happened I was on the internet shopping for plane tickets which had suddenly become impossibly cheap. Whatever ticket I bought to whatever country I was traveling to was marked with an ‘S’ on it. That S meant that I was to be harassed at every single step along my traveling way. This seems quite counterproductive to me as if I had a weapon or a bomb it would seem that the first thorough security check would find it. I knew I was on the list because one of the security guys told me after getting searched the umpteenth time.

In my youth, I was what you would call a troubled child. That troubled child soon grew into a troubled adult. My teenage years were filled with driving around in a jacked up monster 240 Volvo without doors and a huge ram plate on the front. I spent my days playing bumper tag with my friends, getting harassed by cops for skiing behind my car with a rope in the middle of the night, with no doors or muffler on it. Life was good. I was almost shot once for running from a cop after taking a leak in the corner of a parking garage. He pulled his weapon while I was running away and I stopped because I didn’t want to get shot in the back with my pecker still in my hand. We used to play this little game with the cops and would take off running whenever we saw them just to see if they would follow chase. I used to give rooftop tours of Ithaca and Cornell to all my friends and out-of-town visitors. Sometimes the cops would come up there and chase us, once I even got busted because of the blinking light on my cell phone gave me away as I hid under a tarp. That cop was pissed because he had to scale a 10′ high wall to get to me and he had almost killed himself doing it. In all honesty it was good clean fun, the cops were good-natured about everything and I never got shot even though I probably deserved to. My friends and I did get our asses kicked from time to time by the police, but in retrospect we always deserved it. It seems like times have changed.

I believe that every car manufactured should come equipped with one of these linked to it's 'black box'.
I believe that every car should come equipped with one of these directly from the manufacturer

Every single one of my cars has a traffic cam in it. I pay about $60 on ebay and get the G1W-CB from China that have a capacitor in them instead of a Lithium Battery. Why do I mount cameras on every single one of my cars? Simple really, in my 28 years of driving I have never hit anyone who didn’t deserve it. I’ve knocked off a few bumpers playing bumper tag with my friends, but hitting complete strangers who are not interested in playing bumper tag is not something I’ve ever been interested in. The insurance companies are way too nasty to deal with. I would never consider driving a car without a camera because I know that I’m a very good driver and if there is a problem, it’s going to be with the other driver. In court I’m going to need proof, a camera gives me that proof.

Taser Body cam, this is the unit the IPD settled on.
Taser Body cam, this is the brand that the IPD has settled on.

I used to have a lot of problems with the Ithaca police department. For several years they would target me pretty blatantly. They would pull me over at least 2-3 times a week and ticket me for not having an inspected vehicle and not having a muffler. Luckily I could only get ticketed once every 24 hours and a lot of times I would just show the officer that I had already gotten a ticket that day and he would just let me go. I’m really not making this up. I really couldn’t find anyone who would pass my car for inspection as I had ripped off all the headlights and turn signals and fenders, jacked it up with big tires, taken the doors off it and put barbed wire on the front ram plate. I looked at paying my daily inspection fines as the cost of having the most awesome vehicle in town.

You can see from the original IPD swat bus that the cops here have a great sense of humor.
You can see from the original IPD swat bus that the cops here have a great sense of humor.

There was an incident I had with a police officer when I was in my early 20’s. He was threatening a 14-year-old female friend of mine in an alleyway telling her he could do whatever he wanted with her and no one could stop him. I asked him for his badge number repeatedly and he wouldn’t give it to me. I was a 6′ 10″ punk rocker who probably had a leather jacket with metal screws coming out of it and bright pink hair. The police officer was clearly not intimidated even though he was a foot shorter and about 100 lbs heavier. Eventually, he left and I escorted Markia home safely. The next night I ran into the same cop on the commons who was clearly drunk and on duty. He tried to start a fight with me and was pushing me around in public and calling me names. He knocked over my friend Rob and we basically took off running. A drunk cop with a gun who wanted to teach me a lesson was not something I wanted to deal with at all.

Svante (left) does the Cha Cha with Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa (right)
Svante Myrick (left) does the Cha Cha with Tompkins County Legislator Nate Shinagawa (right)

Our fearless leader, the young and incredibly sexy Svante Myrick, has found funding to have cameras on every police officer in Ithaca.  This is a big win for the citizens of Ithaca. Although I have serious reservations about the cost of the cameras and the fact that the police have to turn them on before ‘incidents’, I still feel like this is a step in the right direction.

  • Do the Police have a right to privacy when they are on duty ? I don’t think that they do.
  • Should the Police be responsible for activating the cameras when responding to calls? I don’t believe that they should. The cameras can easily capture everything that the policeman says and does while on duty and it should be uploaded at the end of his shift. He should never have access to the footage and neither should anyone else at the police department without a warrant.
  • Will these cameras reduce impropriety with the officers that wear them? The answer to that by several studies is a resounding yes.
  • Are taxpayers willing to shoulder the financial burden of these cameras? The cameras will cost $192,000 for the first 5 years. It seems like there are few things that the government spends money on that are as important as this. If it will help protect Ithacans from police brutality and it protects the police from lawsuits, then what is not to like? I have to admit that as a professional computer support person it seems a little overpriced when I can buy a $60 dash cam that will store 16gb of data before it starts overwriting itself, that’s about 4 hours or so. With a 256Gb SD card which runs about another $20 I can get about 52 hours of hires video.
  • Will these cameras and the footage lead to or prevent a police state from forming? This is the hardest question to answer. The answer lies in how difficult it will be to access the camera footage by the NSA and other spying agencies. The camera footage should not be accessible to the officer, nor the police department. Only by a warrant should the courts be able to view the footage, and no one else. This will help to protect the officer as well as the victim.

Will this article anger the IPD or the NSA? Will I become targeted and harassed again for speaking my opinion? The thing that is hardest for me to accept is just how hard it is for me to write this article. I remember sitting in the principles office in my youth as Mr Rankin would give me the ‘don’t make waves’ speech. I hated it then and I hate it even more now. I want to make waves, I want to upset the status quo and I want police brutality to end. Barring that at least I want a system of accountability to be put in place.

By some miracle that seems to be what is happening, at least in Ithaca. A common bumper sticker you’ll see here is:

Ithaca: 20 square miles surrounded by reality.

Home sweet home.
Home sweet home.


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