Keep cops honest? Hit the record button.

The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf takes a brief look at the latest scandal rocking the NYPD, where four hundred officers are facing possible larceny and bribery charges. The extent of the shamelessness came to light

…when a police officer discussed taking care of a [traffic] ticket on a phone line being tapped by internal affairs in an unrelated investigation.

Most cops seem to hate being taped, not just in an Internal Affairs probe but on the street, by regular citizens. Short of those citizens doing something to impede the officer in carrying out his or her duty, I utterly fail to see what the big deal is. It’s a different story if the cop is simply not on the up-and-up. Show me a lawman who is aggressively camera-shy, and I’ll show you a guy who’s got something to hide. As Friedersdorf notes, a camera can be an officer’s best friend — actually, either party pressing the record button ought to be a win for police and public alike.

Were it up to me, the cops of America would have a dashboard camera on every cruiser, a digital audio recorder in every pocket, a camcorder running during every interrogation, and secret internal affairs officers operating in every precinct. The exoneration of wrongfully accused police officers would please me as much as the bad cops who were punished for breaking the law or acting unprofessionally. I’d also pass a federal law permitting United States citizens to record the activity of on duty cops without fear of being prosecuted (nope, you don’t necessarily have that right already, depending on where you live). Reason magazine’s Radley Balko wrote a great how-to guide on the subject here.

Over the years, law enforcement has used ever more sophisticated surveillance equipment to monitor citizens. As every police scandal reminds us, the ticket-fixing story included, there is good reason for citizens to become far more sophisticated in our monitoring of on duty police, and the law ought to permit our doing so.

Triple amen to that.

About Rogier:
Rogier is a Dutch-born, New-England-dwelling multi-media maven (OK, a writer and photographer) whose dead-tree publishing credits include the New York Times, Wired, Rolling Stone, Playboy, and Reason.
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