Fabiola Santiago

August 22, 2014

Fabiola Santiago: Cameras on cops cannot replace common sense, caring

In a world enamored with caught-on-video images, you can pick your viral poison: bubble gum or outrage.

In a world enamored with caught-on-video images, you can pick your viral poison: bubble gum or outrage.

Ice bucket challenges, a back-talking beluga, and a doggie pool party were some of the week’s attention getters. In despicable category, an American journalist was beheaded by terrorists, police officers in St. Louis gunned down a man, and an officer disputed the concept of a free media in Ferguson.

He pointed his semi-automatic, high-powered rifle at journalists covering the street protests over the police killing of an unarmed man, and threatened them: “I will f— kill you, get back!”

“Go f—yourself,” he said on camera to a reporter who asked his name.

Some of the Miamians who posted the cop video, wondered: “Is this Cuba or Venezuela?”

To this national scenario comes Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez with a proposal: he wants to put a mandatory body camera on every police officer in the county force.

It’s not just talk in the wake of the outrage over police misconduct in Missouri, where a teenager was shot six times, but something the mayor says he has wanted for a long time.

Gimenez, who had warned of substantial job cuts to the police force this budget year, now proposes purchasing 500 mini cameras made by Taser, enough for about half of the patrol force, at a cost of $1 million plus another $400,000 in operating costs.

The cameras can snap onto a pair of glasses or hat – a similar but more compact version of the GoPro cameras people use to film travel adventures – and would enable an officer to record what he sees.

But concerns may outweigh the benefits – and the issue merits more discussion at public hearings, including a thorough understanding of the technology. For one, if this community can’t get enough people to come forward with information to solve deadly drive-by shootings, robberies, and all sorts of crimes, imagine if the officer they don’t already trust also is armed with a camera.

What the mayor seeks is more trust of law enforcement via evidence collecting, but that can’t be accomplished by tape-recording alone.

“I just hope the cameras cannot be manipulated by the officers,” a reader responded on social media to the Miami Herald story on Gimenez’s proposal.

The cameras record on a loop to conserve memory, but according to police, officers must activate the save function when engaging with a person or a situation for the footage to be preserved long-term.

That, to put it kindly, leaves a lot of room for human intervention and questionable practices.

Gimenez says the cameras will reduce the number of complaints about police use of excessive force. But what citizens care about isn’t statistics, but less actual use of excessive force and more equitable treatment of the population.

What’s missing in Ferguson, Miami-Dade and every other city in America is not more videotape, but common sense, good judgment, and caring for the lives of fellow human beings regardless of race, gender or ethnicity.

Camera-equipped or not, police officers are not exempt from holding up those values.

Will “a camera on every officer,” as the mayor dubbed his plan, make the police more human – and more lawful themselves?

Maybe, but losing another layer of privacy is a high price for citizens to pay.

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