Gall’s Law: A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.
There are at least two sides to every story:
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams told the News-Leader on Monday that he supports the use of body cameras — but cost and other factors keep them from being worn by members of the department.
“I don’t see us implementing them at this point,” he said.
Among local law enforcement agencies, park rangers with the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and Airport Police at the Springfield-Branson National Airport already use body cameras.
But Greene County Prosecutor Dan Patterson told the News-Leader that use of the devices by Springfield police would “significantly” increase his office’s workload.
“Based on the resources we currently have, which are already inadequate, I do not believe it is a practical solution,” Patterson said.
The local officials made their remarks on the same day that the Obama administration proposed a program to help put cameras on an additional 50,000 police officers nationwide. Obama ordered a review of federal programs that fund military gear for local police in August in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the resulting protests.
Williams estimated that each body camera would cost $1,000; he’d want to buy 250 to outfit the force, so the total cost would be $250,000.
But then there’s the cost of storing and managing the hours and hours of recorded data and the time associated with responding to requests for footage by media and individuals under Missouri Sunshine Law. Williams said he might need to hire an employee dedicated to dealing with the footage and estimated that the annual cost of having the cameras could be an additional $250,000, he said.
“I think they’re a good tool; cost is still an issue,” Williams said.
Springfield police already have dashboard cameras that record footage from their spot in patrol cars. Ideally, Williams would like any body cameras to operate on the same system. While there are brands that offer both dashboard and body cameras, the brand of dashboard cameras the department currently has — Panasonic — doesn’t have a complimentary body camera system.
“I’ve got 140 cameras in cars, and I don’t want to take those out and throw those away,” he said.
Mike Evans, president of the Springfield Police Officers Association — a labor group that represents those lower in rank than lieutenant within the department — told the News-Leader on Monday that the association is not opposed to body cameras.
“I think they’re absolutely the wave of the future — there’s no way around it,” he said.
Like Williams, Evans questioned where the funding would come from — the association is campaigning for higher pay, and contract negotiations with the city have stalled — and noted that there are privacy concerns.
“The reality is if we bring the camera in your house, everything on the camera is public record,” Evans said.
Patterson said the exact impact of body cameras on the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office would depend on the policies governing their use. But the office must provide defense attorneys with written or recorded statements made by witnesses; Patterson believes that means the office would need to review body camera footage for essentially every case if there is audio involved.
“You’re talking about potentially adding hours and hours of reviewing,” he said.
Patterson also said the footage could require “significant capital investments” in terms of electronic media storage.
Stone, the city of Springfield’s risk manager, said insurance companies have three main areas of concern about body cameras:
• Privacy concerns: “Who owns the data and how will it be used?” Stone wrote. “What is public and what is private? If police officers conduct interviews of domestic violence or rape victims, who can access that video?”
• Policy concerns: “If officers are required to always have the cameras turned on it will likely lead to privacy issues. If the use of cameras is discretionary, what happens when an incident occurs and the camera was not rolling?”
• Labor unions and employment-related lawsuits: “What will police departments do with all of this video that may show procedural errors and minor infractions? Will this lead to more officer terminations for procedural violations? Will these terminations lead to more lawsuits for ‘wrongful termination?'”
Stone said insurance companies as a whole are watching to see how courts rule on these issues.
That covers most of the issues I was thinking about, and a couple I hadn’t thought of. Don’t get me wrong – I remain a supporter of requiring cops to wear body-cams while on duty. Implementation will be problematic, however.
This is not something that can be done by a stroke of Obama’s pen. This isn’t something that Congress can pass into law. Even if they could, this really isn’t something we want the federal government handling anyway. They’ll just FUBAR it up with cronyism, political correctness and incompetence.
Some state and local governments will screw it up too, but some of them won’t. We can take the success stories and build on them, in sort of a policy version of natural selection.
We will need policies and procedures that are both workable and accomplish the real goal – better cops and more transparency. It’s not going to happen overnight. But it is definitely worth doing.
Anything worth doing is worth doing right.