Police Body Cams — Giggling at Unintended Consequences

By: - September 11, 2019

Unintended consequences can be a bitch. But it can also be a bit of schadenfreude when you’d warned the people suffering such consequences. I’m talking about police officer-worn body cameras. Unlike an officer’s other items on his or her “Bat Belt” containing radio, pepper spray, baton, or gun, cops have no say in how or when to deploy the camera—policy dictates the hows and whens. But what happens when the how and the when are all the time.

The Virginia-Pilot’s headline explains the issue well: “Police body cameras are capturing so much footage it’s driving some defense attorneys to quit.” Newport News public defender Robert Moody says, “It is completely overwhelming.”

According to the story, police agencies in Virginia deploy more than 7,300 body cameras throughout the commonwealth. Public defenders, 93 percent of them, say they simply don’t have time to review all the footage. Another 73 percent say they are “unable to do other case-related work.” So, they’re quitting. They act as if the issue had blindsided them when they were one faction calling for vehicle and officer-worn cameras. They focused on the political and neglected the technical. Let’s get the cops.

They’re lawyers, right? Went to law school and all that stuff. And what are police videos? Evidence. And what are prosecutors required to do with exculpatory evidence (beneficial to the defendant)? Turn it over to the defense. And what is the defense obligated to do? Watch every moment of that raw footage to find out if they can use anything to help their clients.

Okay, I’m no lawyer (though I played with them at work), but most cops saw this one coming. There are two reasons I giggle when I hear things like this. One, most videos exonerate officers. Two, I get to think: we told you so. Childish? Perhaps, but I’ll risk the consequences.