Body Cameras In Durham, NC

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I’ll start with the tendentious commentary at the end of a recent article in the Durham, NC Independent: “Cameras won’t change the disproportionate presence of young black men in the criminal justice system, from arrest rates to incarceration.”

One of the problems I sense in the future of the concept which I am advocating – citizen design of policing – is the confusion and conflation between different grievances folks have about society, which grievances and which confusion and conflation they dump at the door of policing.

The thinking (at least mine) behind citizen design of policing is that, if you take all the folks with grievances about policing in their locale, and put them in a room, together with the police and the elected officials responsible for their funding, and tell them to come up with a policing approach with which they are comfortable, then such a process (rather simply expressed) should alleviate many of the tensions currently visible between communities and law enforcement – about the methods of law enforcement.

I highlight the last six words. Policing has nothing to do with economic opportunity, historic disadvantage, rates of crime, incarceration or the like. It has to do with policing. With enforcing laws which a community has determined it wishes to have applied in its locale.

And citizen design of policing pretends to be nothing more than a possible process for producing a policing approach, which has the greatest possible chance of being supported by the community, and therefore, of moving us away from the open conflict we have seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, among other places.

I’m not sure if body cameras are a good or a bad idea. I do know that they should serve to record what actually happens between a police officer and an individual. So that uncertainty is removed from the record.

But the camera itself does not change the hiring of the police officer, his or her training, his or her attitude, the attitude of the other individual, or the circumstances which led to the interaction between that individual and the police officer in question. Why should it?

I think that one of the confusions inherent in all this newfound interest in policing is that everyone and his uncle is running around having bright ideas, with little or no co-ordination with other folk also having bright ideas, with no context and no overarching process for monitoring what is happening and ensuring that police are accountable and receptive to what the community wants.

Let’s have all the ideas we can. The more the merrier. But let’s have a process for sensible co-ordination, discussion, consideration, context, implementation and monitoring. If that is something like citizen design of policing, so be it. If it is something else, let’s hear about that. But let’s have process at the same time as ideas.

And let’s be sensible about our expectations of the impact of individual ideas. No-one said body cameras were going to create the new utopia. It’s a little silly and somewhat unhelpful to dismiss the notion because it is not accompanied by nirvana.

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