Body Cameras for Law Enforcement Officers

Well this is sort of related to photography… cameras are involved…  I met with two in-service training officers from the San Diego Police Department to discuss some issues related to the use of body cameras by police officers. I was specifically asked to address issues of human perception compared to what may or may not be captured by a small video camera worn by a police officer.  It is a timely and important topic; and because of my very pleasant memories working for a number of years with the training division of the Denver Police Department I readily agreed.

Because the issues involved effect both law enforcement and the public, both those directly (and actually) interfacing with law enforcement and those who think they know enough to comment on the actions involved because of what you read on Facebook or some partisan screed, I want to pass on some of my findings, comments, and conclusions about the topic.  The meeting lasted over 2½ hours and covered an incredibly wide range of topics both in general and in specific, so I will need to do some high level condensation to make this even marginally manageable in length.  I would not normally put this very long entry on this blog, but I think this is all incredibly important stuff… and as I said, it is sort of related to photography.

First a disclaimer:  It is unfortunate and sad, but in this current politically charged climate, what is intended to simply be an objective view into an attempt to resolve issues vis-à-vis the public (or some segments of it) and those sworn to serve and protect them, has instead become a political hot potato and part of the current dysfunctional partisan wrangling.  That virulent and brain dead activity serves no one, protects no one, and has not a drop of productivity associated with it.   So when I agreed to meet with the officers I resolved to do my own research and hope, by being as objective as possible, I might, as with the Denver PD, make a small contribution to the goal of saving lives on both sides of the badge.  It is important therefore for the reader to understand clearly that this post contains my own thinking, research, experience, opinions, and conclusions… and only mine.

This post neither attempts nor pretends to speak for the San Diego Police Department (or ANY law enforcement agency), nor, certainly, for the school or district. Nor does it address ALL of the potential issues raised by this topic.  We only had a couple of hours to hit the more obvious items of specific interest to the training officers.  More may come out in subsequent meetings.  I look forward to that.  However, if you take issue with any of this then address it to me… but do something uncommon these days: read the whole thing first before going off half-cocked.

OK, on to the topic at hand.  The officers described several incidences involving an “officer involved shooting” or a “Use of Force” issue.  Against that backdrop, the underlying question then was, what effect would body cameras have on the investigation into the events or perhaps even on the event itself?  Would, for example, the captured video be dispositive in accurately depicting all of the events sufficient to determine if the officer acted properly or not?  That question is critical since it is THAT question that most of the public activists seem to believe is answered with a clear, “Yes!” by the body cameras.

If only it were that simple or that clear, or even that quantifiable.  But in my opinion it is not.  In order to help explain why it is not, and why this is a far more complex question than it might seem on the surface, you need some background information, especially relative to the experiences, expectations, and mind set of a typical law enforcement officer, especially one answering a potentially dangerous call.

Simple minded people seek simple and simplistic answers to all issues but the world is, unfortunately for them and their objectives, a far more complex place.  Any time humans interact under stress the complexity of issues skyrockets.  To get a real understanding of “Whys” and “wherefors” you then also need some background on the psychology and physiology of human perception because those two disciplines are inextricably woven into the answer of the question. Only then does adding data about the cameras themselves yield a reasonably complete picture.

Here, therefore, to start setting the foundation in place, are some data points police officers learn early on…

  • The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) reports that a total of 1,501 law-enforcement officers died in the line of duty during the past ten years, an average of one death every 58 hours, or 150 per year. In the same period there were over 58,000 assaults on police officers with over 15,000 serious injuries.
  • Most officers who were killed with firearms were shot at a distance of 5 ft. or less meaning the killer or killers simply pulled a gun and fired. Others were assassinated sniper-style. Only a very few were casualties of what TV tells us is a typical gun battle since such events happen very, very rarely.
  • Action always beats reaction for the human neuro-musculature system. It takes roughly ½ second for the average CALM human brain to recognize the need for action before ANY physical reaction even starts.  While someone into the old western sport of fast draw can, with a custom rig, tricked out gun, and no pressure, draw and fire in slightly less than 1/3 of a second, drawing and firing a duty weapon from a regulation holster takes an absolute minimum of a half second for a competitive shooter and in reality often a second – or more – often more like 2-3 seconds.Most range shooting I experienced when qualifying with DPD was based on three second drills and the shooting generally takes place in the last second or two. It takes the first second or two to acquire and present the weapon.  Drawing from under a jacket takes even longer.Movies and TV notwithstanding, the human body and nervous system is incapable of responding faster than someone can fire if they have already initiated the action.  The reverse is also true.  Even if you are holding a cocked pistol at someone, if they are reasonably fast, they can draw and fire before you can react if – IF – they initiate the action.  Action beats reaction every time.  Before you question this based on your vast gun fighting experience watching TV, I can tell you from personal experience this has been tested over and over and over and the results are ALWAYS as I have just stated.
  • Reaction time is so critical in its limitations that experiment after experiment has also proven that a trained man with a knife, starting as far away as about 15 feet, can attack and fatally stab someone before they can realize what is happening and then draw and fire in defense IF the attacker initiates the action.
  • At the same time, an experienced fighter, even if unarmed but within an arm’s length, or within touching distance, can kill or incapacitate you before you know what is happening much less react — if they initiate the action.
  • When your automatic “fight or flight” response to a life threatening situation kicks in and dumps a lifetime supply of adrenaline into your system, all fine motor skills evaporate in a heartbeat. No matter how fine a target or even trick or competitive shooter someone is, during the initial adrenaline rush it would be dumb luck for them to hit a house at ten paces if they relied on precision shooting skills.  Endless practice and what we used to call “Muscle patterning” are all that will come through for you when you are high on adrenaline.  If you have to stop to think about it you will likely be killed.  There are no second place winners in a gun fight.
  • Statistically speaking, if a person disobeys an officer’s command to stop – unless they are deaf – you will likely have a chase and/or a serious fight on your hands against someone determined to resist at all costs… or they would not resist at all.  Exceptions are extremely rare and cannot be counted on as a reference if a situation might become dangerous.
  • I don’t care how many times the Lone Ranger or John Wayne did it, neither the service weapons nor the humans under intense stress are capable of shooting the gun or other weapon out of the rapidly moving hand of someone trying to draw and kill them. And even if they could, where would the now deformed bullet go?

Cops know these things.  And because of that knowledge, they approach dangerous situations just a little bit scared.  No, of course, they will not admit it and don’t much like that characterization.  Perhaps a more acceptable term is “apprehensive.”  But given the physiological autonomous responses to the body’s chemical imbalance when the adrenaline hits home, the term “afraid” is more accurate even if less ego-satisfying.  It is also important because without the awareness of the underlying physiologically induced psychological issues the behavioral results may make little or no sense.   No one wants to be shot or stabbed.  I’ve been both and I can tell you there is nothing in either experience to recommend it to someone else much less to want to do it again.

And yet, in spite of the powerful psychological conflict with a direct instinctive survival imperative, a sworn officer has a duty to wade into harm’s way in the service of his or her citizens; the operative word there being “HARM.”  It is a potential harm of which they (and their family’s) are acutely aware.  Courage is all about overcoming and moving through fear; being truly fearless is also being truly foolhardy.  But again it is not that easy or clear cut because the mind, i.e. the brain, will respond in ways that have occupied neuro-biologists and psychologists for a long time.

Indeed because a bullet or blade can hurt you all the way up to dead there is every reason to do everything in your power to keep it from happening at all.  Here is a little secret about deadly combat.  Very quickly it stops being about trying to apprehend or even kill the other guy and becomes all about trying to make sure he does not kill you.  And the hard core bottom line is, the only way to have a serious chance of survival if the situation is truly about to become deadly… is to act first and decisively.  This is not a game, it is not a movie, it is not a TV show. In real life-and-death combat the fighter who fights fair, who waits for the other person to make the first move is almost always the fighter who dies.  When playing with the big boys and the bad guys, hesitation is deadly – to you.

Then, into this mind set comes the issues of human perception and how the stress of traumatic events impacts that perception.  You cannot react or respond to an action until your brain “perceives” it and then formulates a responsive behavior.  For our discussion it would be easier if vision were the key component of perception since, after all, we are addressing an issue involving cameras.  But in fact vision is but one component influencing perception.  The major organ of influence is not the eyes but the brain.

This is probably the most important thing to accept and understand.  The brain controls what we perceive and consequently what we believe.  Aldous Huxley wrote that humans, “… tend to believe what they tend to prefer.”  As we will see, those preferences, or “biases” act as powerful, almost inescapable filters through which the brain interprets and constructs the images we think we are seeing.  (As an aside, new inquiries in the field of quantum physics, in an interesting twist on Heizenberg’s Uncertaincy Principles” is now positing that “reality,” as we think we experience it, actually does not even exist until it is observed.)

Scientists have known and written about the brain’s incredible influence on our perception for a long time.  The problem is that it is not capable of inputting and analyzing every possible scrap of data from all of our senses.  Visual, auditory, olfactory, basically ALL sensory data is being “felt” by the body and channeled toward the brain for analysis leading to a conclusion and decision about a proper response.  But it is massive overload so the brain adopts a more manageable process.

In the interests of brevity and simplicity, let me use a computer analogy: the brain first takes selected chunks of the incoming data and compares them to known data points in its database of experiences.  Those chunks are far more than we are used to processing in calmer moments.  Under high stress all the senses truly come alive and are feeding the brain huge chunks of all kinds of data.  This incoming data stream is so overwhelming and unusual it sometimes makes time itself seem to slow down in an effect we used to call “psychotachia.”

If the brain finds a match it then proceeds to the analysis and decision phase based on previous experiences and outcomes.  If it does not, it researches the database again, this time looking for similarities and if it finds some it tries to decide if there are enough similarities to declare a match.  If it cannot then declare a match it might look at a different set of chunks of incoming data to find a match.

This takes time: not a lot of time to be sure.  But we are talking about fractions of a second which can result in a fatal delay in a close encounter of the deadly kind.  But, worse, if the brain can find no basis for a decision then it often simply freezes: a paralysis of sorts familiar to combat veterans both in the military and police departments.  That paralysis may be momentary but it is enough to be deadly.

An obvious and important question is how does the brain select the initial (and following) chunks of incoming data to compare?  It selects them on the basis of expectations surrounding the event coupled with an event-specific degree of focus on selected elements in the event.  If the focus is sufficiently strong, usually fueled by emotional overload and stress, the influence of those expectations is so powerful it can make the brain experience elements of the event that do not actually exist or, conversely, fail to experience elements that in fact are happening in front of them.  If you don’t believe the brain can do this you need to attend a performance by a stage hypnotist… or, for that matter, a good stage magician.

An now legendary example of this phenomenon is a video of a basketball game shown to study participants.  They are told that their task, for which they will be rewarded if they are correct, is to count the number of baskets scored in a fairly short period of time.  Participants are so focused on the players and the basket that nearly all of them completely fail to see a person in a gorilla suit walk – walk, mind you – through the scene.  Their failure to observe this complete and highly visible activity is so great and so problematic to them that most will claim it didn’t really happen and that the study administrators are lying to them or even that the replay of the video where now they can see the gorilla clearly when looking for it, is a different piece of tape.  It is as if one part of our brain doesn’t like that another part tricked us and tries to cover it up.

The phenomenon is so well known to researchers that it is known as a form of selective perception called “inattentional blindness.”  But it works the other way too.  Humans are hard wired to try to make sense of their environment and situation; they seek closure and completeness (Gestalt) and will perceive it even if it is not really there based on their situational expectations.  I’ve had students say they saw me somewhere with a camera when either I was not there at all (simple mis-identification) or it was me but I did not have a camera with me.  They “saw” it because they expected to see it.

There is anecdotal evidence that when the Spanish explorers were first visiting the new world, the natives often did not see their ships as vessels, often drawing them as islands, and sometimes acted as if they did not see them AT ALL because they were so far removed from any point of reference the tribesmen could have.

What is critical to understand is that none of those viewers or witnesses were lying, they were honestly relaying what their brain perceived and convinced them was there, or not there, based totally on their focus and expectations.  The resulting perception is so strong it is imbedded as a real memory even though it is not accurate.  There is a reason for the cliché that “perception IS reality.”

Study after study, experiment after experiment, has demonstrated conclusively that individual eyewitness accounts of extremely traumatic events, even ruling out so-called “eye-witnesses” that are lying on purpose for some agenda, tend to be statistically worthless unless there are enough of them that investigators can piece together narrative overlaps and start to create a more or less accurate description.  Yet the public continues to believe, especially when it suits their own biases, that an eye witness account is the best chance for accuracy when in fact it may be among the worst.

Still don’t believe it?  Start watching a TV show called “Brain Games” and prepare yourself for a shock.

Nevertheless, despite the clear experiential evidence to the contrary, in the public mind it is vision that is primary to perception.  So what about the human eye, what can it really see and how does it compare with the body cameras being adopted by law enforcement agencies around the country?

The human eyeball is at once a marvel of biological engineering and at the same time a fairly mediocre optical device.  It doesn’t have to be that good because, at least in some of us, it is connected to a brain to make sense of the electrical impulses it sends, via the optic nerve, to the brain.  The brain does not “see” pictures – it constructs pictures.

Thinking of the eye as an optical device, i.e. a lens, humans, using both eyes — both lenses — can “see” a field of view of approximately 180 – 200 degrees including peripheral vision.  But a lot of that is unfocused and distorted and lacks any real sense of dimension.

Like nearly all predators our eyes are facing forward to give us stereo vision.  The overlap from our binocular vision covers about 120 degrees and in that field of view our eyes, offset by 3-4 inches, can perceive real spatial dimensions (3D) out to between 50 and 100 feet.  Beyond that we really do not see depth but our brain uses standard perspective issues to let us know when things we know are the same size are farther away (they are smaller) or one thing is behind another (due to overlap), etc.  This depth perception allowed us to determine where the prey was in space and how far to jump to seize it or throw something at it.  (By comparison, nearly all prey animals have their eyes on the sides of their heads where they have nearly 360 degrees of view so they can see us predators coming.)

However, that 120 degree binocular view is also largely useless since we can only obtain sharp focus in the central 50-60 degrees of view.  Movement and low light patterns are best sensed peripherally but detail in good light is best sensed straight ahead.  That worked well for a hunter-gatherer in the forest, it works less well for a police officer at night looking for a suspect in a dark alley or building.  And when adrenaline is dumped into the system, that range of view is constricted down to maybe 10 degrees or less with the well known phenomenon of stress induced tunnel vision.  The brain forces the optical system to concentrate on what it thinks is the most important, most threatening portion of the scene so it can focus all of its analytical ability on that.  The participant literally CANNOT see outside of that tunnel.

The resolution of the human eye is also a mixed bag since it varies widely with distance and vision.  For those with roughly 20:20 vision, they can resolve detail that is approximately one to two (usually closer to two) arc minutes in width (one arc-minute subtends about .35 millimeters at about 60 centimeters which is roughly the thickness of the paper used to make a greeting card).  But that drops off rapidly with distance.  People think their vision is great since they can see way down the highway, but try reading a sign at ¼ mile and tell me how good your vision is.  It is in anticipation of this that road signs have different colors and shapes which we CAN see.

So where does that leave our human participants in some traumatic event?  It leaves them at the mercy of a limited visual system that is being mixed with other sensory input and interpreted by a brain operating based on expectations as all of that is influenced by its focus and attention and varying with the degree of hormonal overload.  Surely by now you are beginning to see a problem developing and it impacts ALL of the “witnesses” and participants in our traumatic event… but it impacts them all differently because they all have different experiential databases and therefore different expectations as to what is or is not about to happen, not to mention different apprehensions of the danger.

The machine-based answer that would be of value, both in the field and in the courtroom, would be an optically accurate, emotionally dispassionate recorder of all of the occurring elements impacting a human sensory system and influencing their emotionally charged perception(s).  Are you aware of any device on the planet that can do that?  And if not, is the answer found in the new body camera technology?  That is what we met to find out.

It is time to add the issues of the camera and its capabilities and limitations and how it might have an effect on a situation and/or on the post-incident investigation/analysis of what happened.  Remember, however, if it is to do what we all want it to do, it must be capable of recording, in fine detail and undistorted optics, the whole sensory universe of the event, not just a brief snippet of it.  And it must be capable of providing a narrative of the various perceptions of the participants and their causes; plus it must view all of that vis-à-vis the applicable laws and statutes at play if it is to fairly, ethically, and legally assign responsibility.  That is a very tall order better suited to science fiction than reality, at least for today’s technology.

There are several manufacturers of body cameras for law enforcement/military use and several types of attachments ranging from pencil cams on goggles to shoulder cams to those mounted more or less in the middle of the chest.  Each has pros and cons but none of them do all of the things we just listed as necessary.  All of them simply provide a video/visual record OF WHAT THE CAMERA SEES and in some cases of what the tiny camera microphone picks up.  There is no synaptic connection to the officer’s brain to factor in other sensory input, much less is there any ability to capture the officer’s real state of mind or even physiological state as the event unfolds.  It does not record blood pressure, respiration, etc., it does not record changes in hormonal/chemistry states, and it is clueless about the specifics of that officer’s prior experiences good or bad that help inform their specific expectations.

So what DOES it do?  Well, except for areas of the scene blocked by the officer’s arms or clothing, the manufacturer claims it captures (typically) a more or less 115 – 130 degree view of the scene directly in front of the camera. (One manufacturer has a model that captures about 75 degrees.) That 115-130 degree view is roughly the equivalent view of a full frame fish-eye lens on a DSLR.  That means that the only undistorted part of the scene is right in the middle.  That is also the only area of acceptable sharpness.  You photographers understand the difference between focus/depth of field issues and sharpness as defined by how much detail can the lens render.  Most of the public does not.  This type of lens will have enormous depth of field; but optically it will have some major distortion and aberration issues that limit its best sharpness to the center of the image.

This is not an indictment of these cameras, it is the case with ALL ultra-wide-angle lenses; but the shorter the lens’ focal length,  the more noticeable the effect.  The smaller the capture format, film or digital chip, the shorter the focal length of the lens must be to see the same field of view.

Further, due to the perspective that renders items on the edges farther away from the lens than what is directly in front of the camera, those items at the edges appear much smaller than they would in the middle because they are farther away.  This will not give a later viewer, especially a viewer lacking photo-editing expertise and sophistication, any real sense of spatial relationships or closing speeds and distances.  Think of the similar issue with a passenger side rear view mirror and the warning label in it.

How about detail and resolution?  These cameras can be switched or set to operate on several formats and capture modes as well as several compression routines.  Some lesser expensive models only function at one setting.  At their highest they can operate at the latest so-called 4K resolution but the prices is enormous bandwidth consumption and huge storage needs.   Most can be also set as low as so-called VGA standards.  This is early computer monitor resolution (640 x 480 pixels at 72ppi) that somewhat matches the standard NTSC TV format of 525 (horizontal) lines PER SCREEN.

The result of that low format is a single frame that takes about one megabyte of space.  That VGA resolution may be OK for store surveillance cameras (which is what you typically see) but it has nowhere near the detail to allow arm-chair quarterbacks to properly analyze complex and emotion-laden events after the event.  Standard “High Definition” video is double the potential resolution OF THE MEDIA, 4K is a lot more still, but the final quality is utterly dependent on, and only as good as, the actual resolution capabilities of the lens/sensor combination.  The built-in lens in a $400 body cam is simply not of the same quality as even a budget priced DSLR lens that alone will cost more.

But there are other constraints: good or bad, all that footage must be stored… let’s look at the smallest storage problem – storing VGA footage.

There are 30 video frames per second, meaning, at VGA resolution, roughly 30 megabytes per second of data needing to be stored.  A ten minute sequence at this LOWEST resolution of about 640x480x72 per frame would require 30 X 60 X 10 = 18 gigabytes of storage.  Body cameras are turned on an average of 2.5 hours per shift.  That means they need to record and store 150 minutes or 270 gigabytes of data at low resolution. That means a single uncompressed camera at low resolution would capture 1.350 terrabytes per 5-day week.

Remember, we are not talking $30,000 and up broadcast quality cameras and lenses, we are talking about quality at or sometimes lower than a cheap camcorder or iPhone.  It has no trouble capturing large detail and gross movements; they are perfect for vacation photos or Facebook rendering or viewing on the tiny phone monitor.  They are perfect for military operations to keep track of the action. But when the tiny details involve whether or not a gun or knife or other weapon was in play, whether a fist was open or closed during some very fast movement, how comfortable would you be betting your career and maybe legal future on it? But wait, it gets more complicated due to compression.

In order to handle the enormous storage issues we just mentioned, most video codecs offer some form of compression, the most common being MPEG (in its latest iteration). I’m assuming my photographer followers are all aware of the quality issues of JPEG compression for still images which often are captured at very high resolution to begin with, and of JPEG’s detail destroying compression artifacts.  And that is at 4:1 compression at its best.

For such low resolution output needs as social media or phone display, no one notices the dynamic range/tonal compression going from a 12 or 14 bit capture down to the 8-bit transfer format so that shadow detail and highlight detail are lost.  Again, not a problem for Facebook or email or a blog, but for an investigation into a life or death matter different criteria do, or should, apply.

But MPEG as used for video is vastly more aggressive in its compression routines since it has to work with files that are so much larger.  It has to spread the compression out over multiple frames.  The Axon camera made by Taser (the model selected by the SDPD) claims a final 13.5:1 compression.  And that is on 8-bit capture in the first place.  Whoa.  You likely won’t notice it normally because of the distracting motion happening, especially viewed on a small screen or in a small window.  But slow it down to a single frame to be enlarged on a big monitor and take a look.  I don’t think you will be all that happy with it as a dispositive visual aid in a trial.

So does that mean these cameras are useless?  No, of course not.  It means that their capabilities AND limitations need to be clearly understood by both the officers wearing them and the investigators reviewing the footage after an incident… and the public.  Clearly the cameras can capture major events and gross movements easily.  For a huge proportion of incidences, that is probably just fine.  It will most likely show who pushed whom first, it will capture (with audio) who said what to whom.  It will easily resolve the baseball bat sized bludgeon, a service pistol, and things like that.  The fact of a camera on the officer’s body is likely to dissuade a belligerent individual from creating a problem or blaming the officer for a problem when he or she knows the camera will tell a different story.

The mere fact of the camera being worn can also potentially go a long way to mollify the increasing number of civilians who think police are simply the city’s major street gang no longer out to protect citizens but to shake them down or view them as a gang of street thugs that make Quantrill’s Raiders look like Boy Scouts.  That positive effect alone, if implemented along with a solid community outreach program, would likely make it more than worth the cost.

The cameras for most incidences can also verify whether or not policy and procedures were followed properly and that can be a good thing for a department really trying to get it right.  There are, therefore, some very good results possible from the use of body cams.

But for those who see the cameras as a stand in for an objective human observer – even if there were such a thing – I think they should prepare themselves for a disappointment.   The camera is an abject failure at putting the later viewer in the calm luxury of an editing booth into the shoes and mindset of the officer undergoing high stress.  The camera’s use also provides a major potential privacy issue when visual and often audio data is being collected constantly and picking up not only potential bad guys but also innocent bystanders at the wrong place at the wrong time and now branded by that location association.  Remember the outcry over speed and red light cameras?  The outcry over NSA collecting phone call records is still buzzing in the media.

People want authorities to listen and watch the bad guys… but not them, as if the real bad guys always came with a day-glo label tag so they could be easily identified and selected for surveillance leaving the good guys’ rights completely untrammeled.  But of course at the same time they are completely opposed to profiling…

Bottom line for me is I see this equipment as a real double edged sword that can help or hurt both officer and civilian.  The reality, however, is that it is the wave of the future and will happen until respect is re-earned and returned to the police agencies.

We as a people seem hard wired to always gravitate to a simplistic solution to complex problems; we seek a magic pill to remedy our societal ills, a simple vaccination against what we see as problems.  And now, rightly or wrongly, the public sees the police less as friend and protector and more as enemy and they believe these cameras will prove their case for police over-reaction or help protect against it.  Many activists who see footage that does not confirm their own perceptual expectations will simply accuse the cops of editing the footage that is in their control.

I believe that we – cops and public alike – are asking something of the cameras they cannot deliver.  And if I am correct, that means they will not, certainly not by themselves, resolve the increasing animosity towards law enforcement agencies and individuals.  And that means it will be up to those agencies to reach out to their communities to explain both the capabilities and especially the limitations of this equipment because people who ought to know better will assume whatever is seen on video is not only accurate but is the whole story.

And the agencies need to also get honest with the public about the statistics they face every day that make theirs a hazardous occupation but without which we would be subject to chaos and mayhem on the streets.  The public deserves and NEEDS to understand the world of the law enforcement officer. They cannot do that so long as officers deny the psychological impact that brings these perceptual problems into play since they otherwise do not make sense as exculpatory claims.

Are there bad officers?  Of course.  Are there bad departments?  Yes.  Do those bad actors need to be changed or eliminated?  Yes.  But I believe the truth remains that the large majority of law enforcement officers are seriously trying to serve their public.  Knowing and accepting the risk most cops put on their badge everyday to try to help make their communities a better and safer place to live.

And yet there is a growing groundswell of not just disrespect but downright enmity against the police who are seen, increasingly, as bad guys working against instead of for the public.  That cannot be ignored or wished away, the societal stakes are too high.  But the hard truth is that it will be up to the police agencies to turn that view around; they will have to show the public they are implementing some serious housecleaning and not just circling the wagons.  The public does not seem to be in a mood to even meet them halfway.

Federal and State leadership, and even some local leadership has simply added to the problem by spending far more time commiserating over and drawing attention to events where police use of force seems questionable and virtually no time talking about events where police are attacked and even assassinated.  That, unfortunately, leaves the impression that leadership itself does not respect the police, and if the leaders don;t respect the police why should the average citizen?  The result leaves the law enforcement agencies spinning in the wind and the only ones left to rise to their own defense.

Body cameras may be an element in that effort, perhaps an important element from a PR standpoint.  But in the end they are only a part and perhaps a small part of the full equation.  Resolution and regaining of respect needs a more personal and highly positive interaction to change hearts and minds.  Fair or not, the Police work for us, so the ball is in their court.  But the public needs to give them that chance to do something with it.  And leadership needs to recognize and support it.

About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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