By Chris Reed
August Vollmer, police chief in Berkeley, California, from 1905 to 1932, advocated the hiring of college graduates and offered the first collegiate course in police science at the University of California. Vollmer is also famous for the development of the principles of modern police administration. Advocates of the concepts of administrative efficiency sought to “centralize the authority within police departments” and to “rationalize the procedures of command control.”
But now, the hottest police reform proposal in years — mandating that patrol officers wear cameras in response to concerns about police brutality — is being stalled in Northern California’s largest city. The Mercury-News has details:
SAN JOSE — Amid a national push for police officers to wear body cameras, San Jose’s efforts to equip its officers have stalled for years, most recently waiting for the city and its police union to agree on a policy covering the use of cameras. …
As of Friday, department and union officials say there is no clear timetable for when the first San Jose officers will be equipped with the tiny cameras. In 2013, the Santa Clara County Police Chiefs Association agreed on a use policy for body-worn cameras. But union leaders say the array of privacy issues posed by the devices means their deployment has to pair with the creation of a more comprehensive policy that protects officers’ rights by limiting who can access the footage. …
The next union-city meeting on the issue is set for Jan. 5. Even if an agreement was reached then and there, it could still be years before the cameras hit the streets. …
“There’s this race to get body cams on police as soon as possible, but it’s a very complex issue,” said Officer James Gonzales, incoming vice president of the San Jose Police Officers’ Association. “We realize these are law-enforcement tools of the future. Our goal is to make sure our process is thoughtful.”
‘Indict-o-cams’? Or police protection?
The idea that patrol officers’ conduct while on the job is protected by privacy rights is kind of a head-scratcher when it comes to their interactions with the public in general, not just with criminal suspects. The ACLU has made the obvious point that giving police broad discretion as to when to have their cameras on means that bad cops will just turn them off before doing bad things. This New York Daily News article cites worries about officers having to film themselves while using bathrooms. That seems like a pretty weak argument.
But the NYDN piece also makes a good point about why police officers are likely to eventually come around. The cameras don’t just capture their bad behavior. Cameras can protect them if they behave properly but witness testimony and physical evidence suggest otherwise:
Equipping police with cameras isn’t a new concept. For decades police have used cameras mounted to the dashboards of their patrol cars — initially referred to with suspicion by officers as “indict-o-cams” until they discovered the footage exonerated them in most cases.