Posted by:  Edmund R. Folsom

January 5, 2017

The South Portland Police Department has announced that it will soon begin equipping its officers with body cameras.  That will make SPPD the largest police department in Maine to use body cameras.  As a general proposition, police use of body cameras is a good thing.  But SPPD’s Chief, Ed Googins, has announced that the Department will not release to the public its detailed policies on when his officers will and won’t turn on the cameras, citing the “operational impact” of policy disclosure.  Call me suspicious.  You see, I have found that people don’t always tell the truth about things.  That’s a big reason body cameras are potentially good– they potentially keep things honest.  When a citizen makes a false claim against a cop, an audio/video recording of the event cuts through the crap.  When a cop claims she had a valid reason to stop or arrest a person, or claims injuries she inflicted on someone were inflicted through purely legitimate use of force, a recording that shows otherwise cuts through the crap.

Experience has taught me that we can occasionally expect dishonesty and bad conduct on both sides of police/citizen encounters.  But when it comes to body cameras, who controls the recording device?  Because we know police sometimes fudge or fabricate details of police/citizen encounters, it would be good to know there are policies in place to minimize individual officer discretion on when body cam recordings are to be made.  For one thing, the less discretion officers have, the less an officer with a motive to fudge or fabricate is free to make a discretionary call not to record inconvenient truths.  I am very suspicious when a government agency chooses to keep in the dark policies on using recording equipment meant to protect the public interest through transparency.  If I were in South Portland city government, I would want to make damned sure the veil is pulled back from that darkness.

Update 1/12/17.  The South Portland P.D. have decided to pull back the veil.  They have made their draft body camera policy public, in anticipation of a January 18, 2017 public meeting to discuss the policy.  Secrecy breeds mistrust, and we don’t need to breed more of that.   When government agencies act like they’ve got something to hide, well… surprise!… it makes people think they’re hiding something.


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