List
Facebook Twitter Reddit Tumblr Email

Policing Ferguson. Photograph by Scott Olson/Getty.

Police are safer than ever, civilians are less violent than ever, and violent force and imprisonment is more often to be expected by civilians—all under the watchful eye of cameras.

 

In the United States, violent crime rates continue to drop. Murders fell by 4.4 percent from 2012 to 2013, and are now at the lowest in around 40 years. According to the F.B.I. crime report, the U.S. had an estimated 1.16 million violent crimes last year, the lowest since 1.09 million were recorded in 1978. Adjusting for population, there are 4.3 violent crimes per year, per 1000 population now, compared with 4.9 in 1978.

As Reuters reports, all kinds of violent crimes were lower, with murder and non-negligent manslaughter at the lowest figure since 1968. Rapes fell by 6.3 percent and robbery is down by 2.8 percent.

In Reuters’ coverage, James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University, said the United States having the highest rate of imprisonment in the world contributed to the decline, but he importantly cited ‘the increased use of security cameras and the pervasive use of phones to take videos. “It’s hard for criminals to do anything without being caught on video,” Fox said.’

In another recently released report by the F.B.I., the Uniform Crime Report, they revealed 461 felony suspects were fatally shot by police last year, the most in two decades. This report is routinely criticized for unreporting civilians killed by police. Pig State News‘ page on Facebook, Killed By Police, tracks police killings, showing over 1700 unique killings reported in press since May 1, 2013 and over 750 so far in 2014.

This is particularly troubling because the F.B.I. Killed & Assaulted report shows that police officers are safer than ever, with assaults and deaths by police at the hands of civilians continuing to plummet. Less than 20% of attacks on officers involve any weapons, and yet officers are outfitted with ever-more weaponry, including weapons and equipment designed for battle applications by militaries. For the last five years, the number of sworn police officers relative to total population has declined by about a percentage point each year, after trending upward the prior decade.

Fox’s commentary requires a degree of symmetry: while civilians are more routinely subjected to surveillance, resulting in surging prison populations and some self-regulation in public spaces, police too are less often able to escape being recorded by cameras. That means the escalating violence by police against civilians is also being documented by private security cameras, dashboard-mounted cameras in police cruisers, municipal CCTV systems, and the recording devices carried by civilians.

Together, we see that police are safer than ever, civilians are less violent than ever, and violent force and imprisonment is more often to be expected by civilians—all under the watchful eye of cameras. These cameras generate media that are more often released or leaked to publics, and then are circulated on social media. Audiences can more simply access this content, as it isn’t as subject to filtering by the political economic power of corporate and governmental gatekeepers.

Yet, what is the standard refrain—seemingly from every quarter—in the wake of the newest controversy involving excessive force by a police officer? ‘More cameras are the answer.’

When video results in police accountability, it gets all the credit. When it fails to produce this result, it gets none of the blame.

Recently, a Saratoga Springs, New York, area sheriff deputy slapped a civilian and illegally searched his vehicle after the man clearly stated he did not consent. The man recorded the situation on his cell phone, and the video spread virally on various social media. The deputy was suspended and later charged with a crime for this. It seems reasonable to credit the video with this outcome. But we must then explain why it is so rare for police agents to be suspended, and even less so to be criminally charged, after their misconduct is video recorded.

When video results in police accountability, it gets all the credit. When it fails to produce this result, it gets none of the blame. Given the overall trends discussed above, we have reasons to be skeptical of the standard refrain. Are more cameras really the answer?

Nationwide—and internationally—police agencies are eagerly adopting on-officer wearable cameras. While manufacturers’ marketing materials and adopting police agencies’ spokespersons have political reasons to advance a rhetorical framing of these devices as producing accountability symmetrically, those who are more concerned to advocate for publics, generally, or the victims of police violence, specifically, ought to be more skeptical. Today, civilians are less violent, police officers are more violent, and this is all happening under the watchful eye of cameras and audiences worldwide. Cameras might be a useful tool for political actors to challenge police power, but cameras alone are not the answer.

3 Responses to “Civilians Less Violent, Cops More Violent, All More Visible”

  1. Police Violence Is Not A Problem Because Of Its Invisibility | Prison Books Collective

    […] violence, brutality rarely causes public controversy and is extremely difficult to prove.” But as I wrote last week, police violence appears to be on the rise in the presence of this new visibility. As much as we […]

  2. Let Them Eat Cake | FUSSYlittleBLOG

    […] I have no expertise on the subject of police violence and the needless deaths of unarmed black citizens or other abuses of power. If you are interested in these things you should check out what Ben Brucato has to say. […]

  3. Police Violence Is Not A Problem Because Of Its Invisibility | Surveillance State

    […] violence, brutality rarely causes public controversy and is extremely difficult to prove.” But as I wrote last week, police violence appears to be on the rise in the presence of this new visibility. As much as we […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  Posts

1 2 3 6
September 17th, 2015

Police: The Strong Blue Thread

Facebook user, Anthony Welichko posted the picture above with the following message about “The Safe Harbor Initiative.” “To all law […]

September 16th, 2015

What will we take away from the Ahmed Mohamed controversy?

On Monday, August 14, a 14-year-old ninth grade student, Ahmed Mohamed, was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to Irving […]

December 21st, 2014

Challenging Police Union Leadership in the War on the Poor and People of Color

Police Leadership in Manufacturing ‘War Zones’ Police increasingly describe the communities they occupy as war zones, their inhabitants as enemy combatants, […]

December 4th, 2014

The Reason Mike Brown Can’t Get Justice Has Nothing To Do With Cameras

  Cops killed #EricGarner #OscarGrant #TaneshaAnderson #TamirRice #JohnCrawford #ErnestoDuenez #KellyThomas on camera. pic.twitter.com/4gCc65gcAj — Ben Brucato (@BrucatoBen) December 4, 2014 […]

December 3rd, 2014

A Short Script on On-Officer Wearable Cameras and Civilian Complaints

The scene is an interrogation room. A small room with brick walls, painted in light green-grey. A two-way mirror is […]

December 3rd, 2014

Cameras on Cops and Junk Science in Rialto

Those of us who don’t confront the potential wide diffusion of on-officer body-worn cameras with excitement and hopefulness have already […]

December 1st, 2014

Police Violence Is Not A Problem Because Of Its Invisibility

  For months, in response to the killing of Michael Brown, Ferguson and Saint Louis have been sites of ongoing […]

November 12th, 2014

Civilians Less Violent, Cops More Violent, All More Visible

Police are safer than ever, civilians are less violent than ever, and violent force and imprisonment is more often to […]

June 21st, 2014

US Policing and the State

In this blog, I synthesize multiple theories in order to produce an approach to policing sufficient to understanding police violence […]

February 20th, 2014

Troy Police Under Investigation for Pattern of Civil Rights Violations

A January 25, 2014, police riot in a bar in Troy, NY, was documented on video by numerous indoor security […]