The loss of individual privacy worldwide is a residue of technology. Almost nothing can be kept secret anymore—even information never intended for others to see or read. Because we leave digital footprints each time we use a computer or talk on a cell phone, our writings and speech are monitored, collected, and analyzed by the ubiquitous National Security Agency. Moreover, the data and information collected can be stored forever.
Many Anaheim residents and visitors will soon contribute involuntarily to the city’s data archives: video recordings, collected by cameras worn by Anaheim police officers, their purchase and use recently approved by the Anaheim City Council. In previous postings, I questioned the need for cops with Kodaks and the validity of the Council’s rationale for its vote. The cameras purchased are expensive ($1,150,000), and no substantive evidence has yet been presented to support the effectiveness of this technology for the Council’s stated purposes: “Little is known about citizen attitudes toward body-worn cameras, most notably whether the technology increases trust, legitimacy, and transparency of the police” (White, 2014, p. 35). The cost and misunderstandings about the effectiveness of video recordings notwithstanding, privacy is the public’s biggest concern about their use.
The California Penal Code (§633) authorizes police officers to record communication between persons and events without permission—even confidential communication. Otherwise, both parties must agree to permit recording. Police officers when called may record upon entering a home, conducting official business, serving a warrant, or during exigent circumstances (there is probable cause and no time to secure a warrant). There is no privacy for occupants that exclude videotaping. In California it is even legal for a police officer to plant a recording device surreptitiously inside a police car or jail cell. Because courts ruled that police officers may audio record persons in public places (United States v. Taketa), there is no reason to believe that courts will regard video recordings as different from audio recordings. In short, no privacy exists when a person interacts with a police officer (People v. Lucero).
In developing policies and setting standards for the use of body-worn police cameras in Anaheim, Chief Raul Quezada must consider many questions related to privacy and a broad range of other topics:
- Which persons and which encounters will be videotaped?
- At which point do officers press “go” and stop” on their cameras?
- Will officers be required to videotape only encounters with the public?
- Or will officers be required to keep the videotape rolling throughout a 12-hour shift?
- How will the police department respond to officers who fail to record important incidents?
- Will footage of police misconduct be released to the public?
- Which activities or events will be excluded from videotaping?
- Under which conditions will officers alert or warn persons about being videotaped?
- How will the use of video cameras differ when used to investigate versus to support arrests?
- Will the department release the video of shootings for public viewing?
- How will the department use cameras and still protect witnesses and police informants?
- Will the use of cameras discourage potential witnesses from volunteering information?
- Which members of the department may access or edit videotapes?
- If officers record each encounter and event throughout a shift, can they maintain positive relationships with the public?
Quezada’s answers to these questions, and many more, and the implementation of new policies, many related to privacy, will influence the success of Anaheim police using video recorders. There are potential benefits from their use. The public’s behavior and police behavior will likely improve, resulting in fewer complaints about police officers and fewer incidents requiring use-of-force. Ever-present during implementation of video recorders, however, is the elephant in the room—the further perceived deterioration of privacy—a factor that may increase distrust between police officers and community members. Whether any increased transparency will result from cops with cameras, the persistent mantra heard during Council meetings, remains problematic.
People v. Lucero, 190 Cal. App. 3d 1065 (1987).
United States v. Taketa, 923 F.2d 665 (9th Cir. 1991).
White, M. (2014). Police officer body-worn cameras: Assessing the evidence. Washington, DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/3p2jfv8