Las Vegas Union Pushes Through Deal That Bars Mandatory Use Of Body Cameras

123px-Las_Vegas,_NV_Metropolitan_PoliceBody cameras have been credited with not only uncovering police abuse but generally improving the conduct of officers in relation to the public. Recently in Las Vegas, controversial shootings have led to the demand of such tiny cameras. However, the Protective Association representing Las Vegas police has announced that it pushed through an agreement with Sheriff Doug Gillespie to make the wearing of such cameras optional for officers — an option unlikely to be taken by most police officers.

We have been following the continuing abuse of citizens who are detained or arrested for filming police in public. (For prior columns, click here and here). Despite consistent rulings upholding the right of citizens to film police in public, these abuses continue.

While courts have ruled against these arrests, police unions appear to be moving to prevent the use of new technology that creates a verifiable record of police and citizen conduct alike. Such cameras can help clear police officers in such controversies, but they are clearly viewed as a threat by many officers and union officials.

There is no reason why such public reforms should be blocked in union agreements. Indeed, with the right of public filming established over police opposition, such films offer a closer and often more accurate record of controversial arrests.

30 thoughts on “Las Vegas Union Pushes Through Deal That Bars Mandatory Use Of Body Cameras”

  1. We have seen personal accountability fall by the wayside almost universally now when it comes to the more grievous of law enforcement’s misuse of power. The arrest of citizens legally filming, creative report writing, the blue wall, and the rise of a “warrior cop” culture that sees his patrol sector as a battleground filled with enemies and not as a community he is tasked with protecting – that is all demonstrably real as growing mountains of evidence document. These cameras are not needed to catch the occasional rude comment or employment violation, nor should they be allowed to be used that way. Restricting their output to evidentiary use in criminal cases and civil complaints against the department or officers would take care of that.
    But they ARE desperately needed to provide the personal accountability – and more so, the feeling of personal accountability, that each officer needs. They need to be unable to be shut off by the officer (perhaps by dispatch so it can be shut off when the officer officially goes on breaks).

    You need only review the Stanford Prison experiment and its ilk, and see how ordinary family men where turned into SS thugs willing to exterminate Jews & such to know what a slippery slope we are on when we allow diminished accountability in a powerful authoritarian force or figures. How when their actions are allowed, or even sanctioned or rewarded by their superiors and the state – we get out of control thugs that are far worse in their abuses than anything we have to fear from what they are “protecting” us from.

    These cameras are a simple stopgap measure to help keep us from sliding down that slippery slope as quickly. What is really needed is a change in attitude from above.

    Hear we demonstrably received neither. The citizens and visitors to Las Vegas deserve better. Let’s hope they vote better in.

  2. Michaelb: “Of nearly equal interest is the Sheriff’s roll over to the Union.”

    I spent a lot of my career time negotiating with management and management never agreed to anything major that didn’t also benefit management. that is a fact of life. Very perceptive there, Michaelb.

    And as a blanket rebuttal to all of the anti-union comments that will be drawn to this article I’ll just make the statement (not argument ’cause I’m late for something and just generally too contemptuous of the attitude to argue) that every worker, EVERY worker needs protection from the employment vagaries (including economic capital punishment) potentially visited upon them by their employment masters. Doesn’t matter if it’s a private or public employer, every worker needs protection and that’s what a union is.

  3. Kraaken:

    We agree on a couple of issues. The camera should be on when engaging the public for an incident or making an arrest, when transporting prisoners, or engaging in traffic stops.

    That which we differ are related to employment rights. I don’t want a camera on when I visit the locker room or restroom. I don’t want the camera on when I am on my break talking to my wife or doctor on the phone, and I don’t want to camera one when a union member is talking to me about a grievance he is wanting to five against his supervisor. But in the case of the officer just going about say driving around patrolling, doing nothing wrong, I witnessed an officer get canned back in the mid 1980’s because he and another deputy were driving around on patrol and one of their portable radio microphone keys got pushed inadvertently. So the radio transmitted their conversation over the main channel. They were talking about how attractive this particular woman was on the other side of the street and some issue he had with the undersheriff. Of course this was all recorded by the radio recorder back at dispatch. The next week the deputy was fired for what he said. I might add that these conversations are those that regularly take place in patrol cars, and does to this day, but it was then turned into evidence and used against this deputy.

    There are also times were recording is prohibited in certain situations, such as being in someone’s house in a two party consent state and the homeowner objects to the recording. If the police do not disconect the device they are breaking the law.

    Just because a person becomes employed as a police officer does not mean that they lose all their employment rights.

  4. Darren: ‘But as a former police union officer I would object to these body cameras being forced to run all the time because I have seen how management can abuse such a system.’

    Normally, Darren, I tend to agree with you, but on THIS point, I can’t. The very REASON that these cams were being required is that the behavior of police officers has become so suspect in most jurisdictions that the public, whom they are sworn to protect and serve, no longer trust them. I would think that the officers would be glad to have these cameras because then they could say ‘I did nothing wrong and here’s the proof.’ While I understand the other issues you bring up (spying by management, engaging in ‘fishing trips’) IMHO the police have brought this extra layer of surveillance upon themselves by their actions.

  5. If police departments and federal agencies are awash in DHS money, shouldn’t we have more “Anti-Corruption Technology” to deter police abuse like body cameras?

    Another already existing technology to deter police corruption is “cell tower dump” mapping overlaid with GPS mapping – used with a warrant by Internal Affairs, Inspectors General, GAO, etc. For example: If a citizen claims police harassment, the Plaintiff’s cell/GPS mapping could be compared to the employees of the agency/contractor in question.

    Background: Since 9/11, the federal government has effectively “deputized” local and state authorities using billions of dollars of DHS Preemption & Prevention grants. The net result is citizens are being investigated, blacklisted and harassed by local and state authorities (for over a decade) – not based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion of a crime. In other words the goal is NOT arrest or conviction so there is no record or paper-trail of these color of law crimes and abuses by police, FBI and intel folks.

  6. There is an angle that isn’t being considered here. When dash cams were becoming ubiquitous it wasn’t long before management started discovering they could record everything their officers were doing and saying and they used these to constantly spy on officers and engaging in fishing trips for when officers talked badly about management or anything they wanted. Unions objected to this because of worker privacy issues. The dash cams are usually configured to record audio on demand (manually by officer or by light bar activation) and a one minute prior capture of video. Such as if the officer instigated a contact or traffic stop but not when they were sitting in a car talking to themselves. This seemed to address the issue to the satisfaction of most.

    The body camera can be viewed the same as the dash cam.

    I don’t have a problem with turning on a body camer when contacting a citizen for an allegation of a crime. But as a former police union officer I would object to these body cameras being forced to run all the time because I have seen how management can abuse such a system. And no its not the “well if you did nothing wrong you would have nothing to hide by being video taped.”

    1. Darren Smith wrote: “I don’t have a problem with turning on a body camera when contacting a citizen for an allegation of a crime. But as a former police union officer I would object to these body cameras being forced to run all the time because I have seen how management can abuse such a system.”

      Excellent perspective. Wish all cops had your attitude.

  7. why do civil servants have unions? i mean they have immunity. from prosecution these days so exactly what is the use of the unions? you know what never mind i have a good idea. since the beginning of unions all have been corrupt in one way or another. i admit they started out with a good purpose but somewhere along the line the purpose of unions became null and void. and of course its now well known why that is.

    im more concerned with the sheriff just giving in.

  8. I am all for private unions btw. Just if you work for the govt you should not have union protection

  9. Public Unions should be abolished. I am sorry but govt unions should NOT exist period. No teachers no police no fire no anything.

  10. I think Justice Holmes hit the nail on the head. They have the right to contract in any way they can, but the police department would scream and yell if they asked for too much money, but they relent on the cameras. Disgusting.

  11. I was raised with the romantic notion that the police were civil servants whose duty was to protect and serve the community. Experience has taught me otherwise. The police routinely lie to citizens and abuse citizens. I can understand why they do not want the cameras. They will claim to wear them voluntarily, but then turn them off when they know they are about to bully someone. When they look for the camera footage, it will be, “oh, I thought I had it on… oh well, it is not illegal for me to have it off.”

  12. I normally support unions but not on this one. In response courts should issue rulings that create a presumption that a police officer who chooses NOT to wear such a camera will be presumed to have violated the complainant’s rights in both civil and criminal cases. It is time that police officers be held to a strict stardard of behavior that is consistent with the Constitution.

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