The transparent society is coming, and wouldn’t it be just fine if our gun-wielding authorities took part? After all, the only time we really get up close and personal with the goings on of our local police force is when there’s an act of heroism or brutality to discuss—and often with the latter we do so only after some clandestine digital footage is released, some incriminating evidence of how cops act when they don’t think the camera’s rolling. So what if it always was?
What if cops’ actions were always being recorded: every moment of every active patrol, via high-tech eyecams they were required by the police department to don at all times? Would we see less wanton racially-motivated harassment? Fewer officers given to bouts of excessive pepper-spraying? Fewer unnecessary beatings? Would it inspire more accountability, and ultimately, more public trust in the police force?
All questions the Salt Lake City police department is hoping to answer by making that pioneering move. It’s moving to be the first in the nation to require officers attach special eye-cams to their sunglasses when in the field. Here’s the SLC Tribune:
The Taser AXON Flex on-officer system is a small, light-weight camera with 14 hours of a battery life that an officer clips to an item like a headband or sunglasses so it can record whatever that officer is seeing or doing … Salt Lake City would be the first department in Utah to use the technology, said Rick Smith, Taser founder and CEO, who attended the presentation …
Smith said any use of force is inherently high risk and controversial. He said there are often differing accounts of what led an officer to use force in a particular situation and equipping them with cameras will help with investigations and retroactive reviews of decisions that were made, he said. “It holds everybody accountable,” Smith said.
Police Chief Chris Burbank is on board. He told the tribune that “It really improves our ability to be professional and document events as they occur.”
And he told ABC News that he believes the program will soon be adopted by other police departments across the nation, too: “If Salt Lake City goes this direction, if any agency goes this direction, the expectation is going to be in my mind, that everyone move in this direction,” he said.
There you have it. Transparent policing, coming soon to a department near you. Recognize that this won’t solve a multitude of problems—these things can be turned off or conveniently shielded, and the footage is still liable to be buried in the cloud amongst thousands of other digital patrol records. One problem with the transparent society, after all, is that it can be so transparent that we’re overloaded with info. In other words: folks will still learn to game the system to get away with nasty stuff, or to cover up misdeeds. Police too.
But the psychological import on policing might be meaningful yet; a potentially powerful incentive to follow protocol, to stay the baton, to watch words and lay off the pepper spray. Guess we’ll see.