Body Camera Footage Shows Cameras Aren't Making Boston Cops Better Police Officers

from the here's-hoping-there's-a-long-tail-deterrent-effect dept

So much for body cameras giving us better law enforcement. What started as an accountability effort has turned into a boon for prosecutors and little else. Every so often, citizens win lawsuits or have charges dropped because recorded footage differs greatly from the official narrative, but those are relative anomalies. When footage would be useful, it tends to go missing or is never recorded.

Every so often, footage that was never meant to see makes it into the hands of the public. The Appeal was given access to 66 hours of footage recorded by officers handling protests in Boston. The recordings show bad cops will continue to be bad cops, even when they're aware (or should be) they're all wearing recording devices.

Recordings show officers deploying force against people attempting to comply with their orders and discussing what appears to be an arrest quota. It shows an officer appearing to pocket a tie (with the price tag still on it) picked up near a looted store. It shows officers repeatedly pepper-spraying peaceful protesters and discussing targeting certain individuals for more spraying.

One of the most disturbing clips shows a cop bragging about hitting protesters with his unmarked car:

In another clip, a sergeant approaches the officer behind camera X81331058 and begins telling him about using a police vehicle to attack demonstrators.

“Dude, dude, dude, I fuckin’ drove down Tremont—there was an unmarked state police cruiser they were all gathered around,” says the sergeant, laughing.

“So then I had a fucker keep coming, fucking running,” he continues. “I’m fucking hitting people with the car, did you hear me, I was like, ‘get the fuck—'”

Some of the worst cops also appear to be the dumbest cops. Here's what happened next:

At this point the officer behind the camera pushes the sergeant’s head away and walks off in the other direction. He comes back a few seconds later, saying, “it’s on,” about the camera.

The sergeant quickly changes his story.

“Oh, no no no no no, what I’m saying is, though, that they were in front, like, I didn’t hit anybody, like, just driving, that’s all,” he says. “My windows were closed, the shit was coming in.”

Instead of the officer with the camera telling the sergeant he screwed up, the officer instead apologizes for his camera activating.

“This thing just fucking went on automatically,” he says.

And that's how bad cops stay on the job. Because even marginally better cops are unwilling to do anything about their misconduct.

Now, there will be some accountability, albeit belatedly. This footage could have been reviewed any time by these officers' supervisors or other oversight efforts. Either it was never reviewed or no one saw anything wrong with what was recorded. Neither outcome is ideal.

But some of these cops may find their jobs on the line in the near future. The Appeal reports Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins has forwarded the recordings to her special prosecution team. The Boston Police Department has also opened its own investigation into officers' actions during the May 31st protest.

If something actually comes out of this, the cameras may finally have a deterrent effect. Or it may just make bad cops act better when there's a chance they're being recorded. But even if the better behavior is only performative, there should be some overspill that results in fewer people being abused or having their rights violated. And that's probably the best we can hope for until police departments actually start taking employee discipline seriously.

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Filed Under: body cameras, boston, boston police, policing, transparency


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  • icon
    ECA (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 2:20pm

    GOT TAPE?

    1 layer over the lens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 2:52pm

    Whenever I think I can't hate cops any more...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 3:05pm

    Yeah, see, there’s a big roadblock to discipline…

    that's probably the best we can hope for until police departments actually start taking employee discipline seriously

    Bold of you to assume that police unions would even remotely consider the idea of maybe allowing for the possibility of some nebulous kind of discipline at some indeterminate point in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 3:20pm

      Re: Yeah, see, there’s a big roadblock to discipline…

      At this point I'm fully on board with the calls to disband police unions entirely, because however much good they may have or even continue to do it is more than outweighed by the bad as they do everything they can to prevent any sort of accountability for police, ensuring that both police and their relationship with the public will get worse and worse.

      Someone wants to be a cop, great, there's the laws and rules they need to follow, don't like it then the door's over there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2020 @ 11:13am

        Re: Re: Yeah, see, there’s a big roadblock to discipline…

        The thing about unions is, they are meant to equalize somewhat a disparity of power between employers and employees. But uh, when the employees are essentially the biggest part of the concern, by both money and power, the union is just there to enforce that position, and gain more territory.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 3:08pm

    Cameras and behavior

    Does Kanye West act less crazy on KUWTK? No.
    Does Donald Trump act less stupid on The Apprentice. No.
    Love Island, Married in 30 seconds, etc...

    Is there ANY reality show in which people aren't their same stupid selves just because cameras are rolling? No.

    Why do we expect cops to be different?

    There are two types of cops: bad cops, and the ones who let them continue to be bad cops. Cameras won't change that.

    The apple was rotting... rotting from within. - [para] Asimov, Foundation.

    E

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ben (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 3:20pm

    When will we start seeing judges raising an eyebrow in court when a camera conveniently failed to turn on or camera footage 'has gone missing'.
    Any time this happens, and especially when there's a pattern of it from any given district, judges should be pointing out to juries how unreliable police testimony is without corroborating evidence.
    And so-called 'contemporaneous notes' are not corroboration, they're just an aide memoire to the police officer of what they want their official story to be.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anon, 31 Dec 2020 @ 12:31pm

      Re: Judges...

      Yes, at some point "failure to record" should result in "if you cannot prove the plaintiff is lying with footage you should have had, then the presumption should be he is telling the truth since you can't prove otherwise." Presumption should be the camera was deliberately left off to hide improper conduct. Preponderance of evidence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 3:26pm

    Damning not just for one but all

    Yeah, you don't casually brag about hitting people with your car to your coworker unless you are damn sure that you're not going to face any sort of penalty for it, so if they felt safe to do so odds are very good that the entire department is filled with goons that see nothing wrong with that sort of behavior, and those are most certainly not the sort of scum that should have any sort of power or authority to put it mildly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2020 @ 2:09am

      Re: Damning not just for one but all

      Just imagine the result of some rube bragging on a video about hitting cops with a car ... omg! the outrage!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2020 @ 4:49pm

    And that's how bad cops stay on the job. Because even marginally better cops are unwilling to do anything about their misconduct.

    There are no good cops. ACAB (period)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 4:56pm

      Re:

      Not entirely true, but at this point the exceptions are about as common as people who've been struck by lighting while winning the lottery.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anon, 31 Dec 2020 @ 12:34pm

        Re: Re:

        No, I think there are a decent number that want to do good, but quickly learn that not going along, let alone speaking up, is quickly and heavily discouraged by the bad apples.

        As the saying goes - "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Uriel-238 (profile), 31 Dec 2020 @ 5:57pm

          Spoiling the whole bunch

          Historians have a word for Germans who joined the Nazi party, not because they hated Jews, but out of a hope for restored patriotism, or a sense of economic anxiety, or a hope to preserve their religious values, or dislike of their opponents, or raw political opportunism, or convenience, or ignorance, or greed._

          That word is Nazi. Nobody cares about their motives anymore

          -- A.R. Moxon

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 6:26pm

    I am outraged.

    I don't have anything yet to add except for my frustration there is little that can be done that will be effective and doesn't risk murder / imprisonment by the same law-enforcement caste that's assaulting protesters with vehicles.

    We're going to have to abolish the justice system, and we may have to overthrow the current system to do that. And yeah, that may not be feasible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TheForumTroll (profile), 3 Jan 2021 @ 7:58pm

      Re: I am outraged.

      To change the problem what needs to change is not the police but the entire system. The reason cops in Scandinavia behave differently isn't because humans are different in the US compared to Scandinavia. It is because the whole US system is catering to the bad apples, the greedy, the lazy and the rich. IMO what we see with cops is what we see in all American systems in general, from cops to judges, from garbageman to politicians. In short: It won't change as long as America is America.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 7 Jan 2021 @ 12:52am

        Re: Re: I am outraged.

        "The reason cops in Scandinavia behave differently isn't because humans are different in the US compared to Scandinavia. It is because the whole US system is catering to the bad apples, the greedy, the lazy and the rich."

        What you mention didn't become a real issue until around the 80's when Reagan started digging what turned out to be the grave of US federal credibility and used the broken corpse of the concept of social responsibility to line it. The way had already been paved to some extent by Ayn Rand giving every destructively self-serving asshat in the US moral credibility in the 60's, but it took a sitting republican president to weaponize the canon of greed and selfishness and use it to garrotte the social contract.

        Scandinavia, and much of europe, still operates according to the concept that a social contract exists. Law enforcement follows the Peelian principle. Although the EU is rapidly turning into a shit-show of tinpot neo-feudalism most of the member states still do enjoy a government with consent by the governed and policing by the consent of the policed. The whole idea is that we're all in this together.

        None of this is true for the US and hasn't been for a long time now. Imho Trump isn't some aberrant phenomenon - he, or someone just like him was inevitable once the republicans hit a certain treshold of ethical dissolution. They've spent decades deliberately erasing every positive aspect of government just to obtain a large crowd of angry and desperate low to middle class voters who now believe, with all their hearts, that the reason they're up to their ears in debt and a single breadwinner can't support a large family in affluence any longer, is all because of the damn liberals.

        If the US actually worked the entire political caste, on both sides, would be out of an electorate and out of a job. And the police being one side of an increasingly partisan debate favors both democrat and republican politicians in the end.

        I'm thinking that although the rhetoric will remain heated from both sides here, any practical response will be, at best, lukewarm. Far easier to find a large herd of willfully ignorant american voters and point at their political opposite and scream "J'accuse!" than to actually produce viable solutions.

        That's the US problem in a nutshell - aside from a very few firebrands in senate and congress the current body politic benefits enormously from the voters being stressed and in despair. There's just no motive for a fix. For anything.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 30 Dec 2020 @ 6:46pm

    Well..

    If it doesn't make them better cops, we can hope it makes them more likely to be fired or sent to jail for egregious behavior. I think that is what we are looking for, weeding out the officers that take out their frustrations on people they are paid to protect. It is comparable to rapists.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 30 Dec 2020 @ 7:51pm

      Re: Well..

      Sadly you should probably hope for a ham sandwich to appear before you while you're at it, as that at least has a chance to happen.

      As for the rapists comparison on the one hand I'm tempted to say that that's going too far, yet at the same time I can't help but think that it's not going far enough, because as bad as a violation of trust and rights by a member of the general public is it's far worse when the person was given power and authority with the expectation that they would wield both responsibly only for them to then betray those that they are theoretically there to protect and serve.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dave, 30 Dec 2020 @ 9:43pm

    Which is why people need to be recording their own videos of interactions with law enforcement, known as sousveillance.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    CaesarAlan, 31 Dec 2020 @ 3:32am

    Deterrents only work if they're credible. It was ever thus.

    Cops know that - no matter what the evidence - the likelihood of meaningful consequences for their actions is vanishingly small.

    Unless that changes, their behaviour won't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TheDude, 1 Jan 2021 @ 1:48am

    Phase 1. Body cameras (oversight)
    Phase 2. ?
    Phase 3. Profit (accountability)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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