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 on one wall and a surveillance camera is mounted in the corner. 

In the center of the room is a table with a chair on either side. An empty chair is on the side of the table facing a closed door. In the other chair is John, a Black male in his early twenties, wearing a black t-shirt, jeans, and some dried blood around one bruised eye. 

An officer in uniform, named Dick, enters the room and sits at the table across from John.

John: Look, I’m not talking to you without my lawyer.

Dick: I understand.

John: No, I don’t think you understand. I want to talk to a white shirt and file a complaint for what you did to me.

Dick: Look, John, we got you for driving without insurance, which is going to cause enough problems for you. But I want to show you something else…

Dick pulls a small device from his duty belt. It looks like a smart phone, only larger and more ‘heavy duty.’ He presses a button and a video begins to play.

Dick: Watch this, right here… I tell you to put your hands behind your back.

The video plays. We hear Dick yelling, “Hands behind your back… behind your back motherfucker… Stop resisting… Stop resisting…” John replies, “I’m not resisting! What are you arresting me for? I have my rights! Tell me what you’re arresting me…” His voice trails off and we hear the sound of tussling bodies and heavy breathing. “Ow! Damn!” Dick stops the video.

John: See, you hit me for no reason. I want my lawyer.

Dick: I told you to put your hands behind your back and you put your arms to the side to avoid being cuffed-

John: I put my hands out so you wouldn’t accuse me of going for a weapon!

Dick: John, I was just attempting to place you in cuffs for my safety, and you resisted. So I can also charge you with resisting arrest.

John: Bullshit, I-

Dick: And when I grabbed your arm you cocked back and elbowed me. That’s assaulting an officer. A felony. You could spend months in jail, maybe more.

John: I didn’t hit you, you hit me! Look at my face! I want to file a complaint.

Dick: Look, John, these complaints never go anywhere and you know that. But they are a real pain in the ass.

John: Well, I’m gonna be a pain in your ass when I sue you.

Dick: John. John. Calm down. Look, you’re facing charges for driving without insurance, resisting arrest, assaulting an officer. You’re looking at some serious time.

John: I want my lawyer.

Dick: How about we make this easier on both of us. If you are willing to let this go, we can stop this all right here and I’ll send you home with a traffic ticket. If you want to go ahead and file that complaint, this video will be played for a jury and you’re going to be doing some hard time. What do you say?

Fade out.

Cameras on Cops and Junk Science in Rialto

Some police departments are turning to wearable cameras, allowing their officers to record interactions with citizens. At the Taser International headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., Joseph LeDuc, a police officer, checked a video made with such a camera. (Photo: Joshua Lott, The New York Times)

Those of us who don’t confront the potential wide diffusion of on-officer body-worn cameras with excitement and hopefulness have already grown accustomed to some pat responses from advocates. Certain to be among them is the citation of a study from Rialto, California, that has made national news.

As the New York Times reported:

The Rialto study began in February 2012 and will run until this July [2013]. The results from the first 12 months are striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.

Rialto’s police officers also used force nearly 60 percent less often — in 25 instances, compared with 61. When force was used, it was twice as likely to have been applied by the officers who weren’t wearing cameras during that shift, the study found.

After completion of the study, Britain’s The Guardian relayed the same statistics and reported “Rialto’s randomised controlled study has seized attention because it offers scientific – and encouraging – findings.” Civilian police monitoring groups, like Police The Police, touted the new technology with an internet meme that circulated widely on social media. Continue reading

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 in contemporary US American society. While much of this approach sufficiently describes policing in neoliberal democracies generally, the unique history of the United States colors policing in specific ways.

Along the way, I will address Max Weber’s definition of the state, Mark Neocleous on the fabrication of social order, W.E.B. Dubois and Joel Olson on the color line, Martinot and Butler on sovereignty, and finally Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben on states of exception.

My attempt with this blog is to communicate an approach to policing that operates in my research, but to do so for a more general audience. I understand that by appropriating the language from political theorists, sociologists and philosophers, and by attending to the origins of the ideas discussed here, the blog might be received as intimidating. I hope readers who are put off by this style of attribution will be so generous as to disregard some of the stylistic decisions I’ve made to be in both worlds, academic and public alike. These two worlds aren’t so separate. Many criticisms of the former result from a reactionary anti-intellectualism, and yet it is fair for some readers to approach citational writing as alien. Also, the suggestion that public communication not be intellectual in orientation is to presume too little of the many publics among whom this material will likely be relevant.

A Monopoly on Violence

Policing has been defined very broadly as the administration and enforcement of law with the latent authorization to use violent force in doing so. Continue reading