Police body cams: Will they really help?


By Errol Louis
December 5, 2014 — Updated 2118 GMT (0518 HKT)


Editor’s note: Errol Louis is the host of “Inside City Hall,” a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — One of the key demands from the national wave of demonstrations protesting recent police killings of unarmed black men is that law enforcement agencies expand the practice of equipping officers with dashboard cameras, body cameras and other recording devices, on the theory that visual recordings of controversial encounters will make it easier to discover the truth in situations like the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, or the choking death of Eric Garner in New York.

Activists from coast to coast have decried the lack of a grand jury indictment in either case. But a strong word of caution is in order for those who think the widespread use of cameras will reduce or eliminate instances of police brutality or unjustified killings. The available evidence makes it far from clear that cameras will have the beneficial effects being promised.

The public’s natural tendency to want to see for itself what has happened is understandable. “We won’t have to play this game of witnesses’ memories and secret grand juries,” if cameras are more widely used, says Benjamin Crump, the Brown family attorney, who is pushing what he calls the Michael Brown law. “It’ll just be transparent and we can see it for ourselves. We can hold people accountable when they have interactions with citizens.”

The idea is gaining traction. President Obama has announced a $263 million package to help local police departments buy and use 50,000 cameras, and the New York Police Dept., the nation’s largest, has launched a pilot program.

But two criminology professors at Arizona State University, Justin Ready and Jacob Young, say cameras often come with unintended negative consequences.

“In our field research on body cameras, there have been many times when cameras made matters worse for the officer,” the professors write. “For example, in one situation an officer was trying to comfort a teenage girl who lived in an abusive home, but he found it difficult to show compassion and respect for her privacy with the camera rolling. …The device can be a physical reminder to crime victims that they are on camera at times when they are most vulnerable and in need of privacy.”

Since statistics show that fewer than 20% of police calls involve felony crimes and only 1% of calls result in the use of physical force, the vast majority of recordings will capture vulnerable victims rather than document instances of police using force. There’s a related issue of whether witnesses will be less willing to share important information with officers if they suspect the conversation is being recorded.

Another problem involves the crucial issue of when — and whether — officers are simply turning off cameras at crucial moments. In New Orleans earlier this year, a police officer shot a man named Armand Bennett in the forehead during a traffic stop, then failed to report the fact the incident happened (for which the city’s police chief later apologized). As the press dug into the story, it turned out that the officer who shot Bennett was outfitted with a body camera, but the device was switched off.

In San Diego, two controversial shootings were captured on police body-cam videos this year — but police refused media requests to make the footage public, undercutting the idea that a video record can help the public understand what happens in a controversial case.

Even when camera footage is available, say professors Ready and Young, “it is possible that on-officer video creates a polarizing effect on some controversies because people with strong convictions about what has transpired during a police shooting may use the ‘facts’ that they see in the video footage to support their expectations about what occurred in the blind spots.”

Washington Post blogger Radley Balko points out that merely having cameras isn’t enough: “In addition to making these videos public record, accessible through public records requests, we also need to ensure that police agencies implement rules requiring officers to actually use the cameras, enforce those rules by disciplining officers when they don’t and ensure that the officers, the agencies that employ them, and prosecutors all take care to preserve footage, even if the footage reflects poorly on officers.”

An additional problem is that evidence suggests that the presence of cameras doesn’t necessarily make police officers more courteous or careful. A much-touted study of police in Rialto, California, found that using cameras led to a 60% drop in the use of force and a 88% decline in citizen complaints in a single year.

But that experience is not universal. Dashboard cameras had been in use in Seattle for years, but in 2011 a federal Justice Department investigation still concluded that the department “engages in a pattern or practice of using unnecessary or excessive force.”

According to professors Ready and Young, “police are actually more proactive when wearing cameras,” in part because they can record circumstances that will support their reasons for taking action.

As the nation prepares for the next 50,000 body-cams to hit the street, we’ll face the same underlying question: Are the cops keeping us safe and also respecting everyone’s civil liberties and constitutional rights? That’s a question no amount of technology can answer.

Protesters and police spar in Hong Kong


By Ivan Watson, Vivian Kam and Wilfred Chan, CNN
December 1, 2014 — Updated 0654 GMT (1454 HKT)


Hong Kong (CNN) — Police clashed with activists at the main Hong Kong pro-democracy protest site Monday morning after a violent nighttime standoff when protesters surrounded government headquarters in the city’s Admiralty district.

Authorities removed some tents and barricades at the main protest site before withdrawing. The site is currently calm.

Protesters, following student leaders’ calls to escalate their civil disobedience movement, surrounded the government complex Sunday night and charged onto Lung Wo Road, a major east-west route next to the headquarters. Police used batons and pepper spray to push back demonstrators.

Police and protesters were seen injured in the clashes, with protesters seen receiving first aid treatment from fellow activists, and police carried away on gurneys.

The standoff continued Monday morning as police moved in on the main Hong Kong pro-democracy protest site, cutting down banners on a pedestrian overpass above thousands of tents inside the “democracy village” in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district.

Before dawn Monday, at least 40 arrests had been made in Admiralty, according to the Hong Kong Police. A further 12 people were also arrested in Mong Kok.

The Central Government Office was closed on Monday morning but later re-opened.

The government said it condemned “violent radicals,” saying they had “provoked and verbally abused police officers” and encouraged others to charge police lines.

“We do not have any plan”

The current police operation is the boldest move authorities have made on the main protest site in nearly two months.

Protesters seemed at a loss for how to respond, with arguments breaking out between student leaders and protesters even as police moved in.

Winnie Ng, a demonstrator, told CNN “We do not have any plan.”

This morning, a tweet from student leader group Hong Kong Federation of Students read “We need your support in Admiralty right now.”

The tense standoff came at the end of a dramatic week in which Hong Kong authorities moved to dismantle protest camps in the city’s working-class Mong Kok district, arresting dozens and drawing accusations of brutality in the process.

Protesters want their occupations to pressure the Chinese government into giving Hong Kong open elections for its next leader in 2017. So far, officials have shown no willingness to give into protesters’ demands.

The protests have drawn widespread international attention, although the Chinese government has rebutted any efforts by outside countries to “interfere.”

On Sunday Sir Richard Ottoway, who chairs the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said he and other lawmakers had been barred by China from making a planned trip to Hong Kong to assess the political situation.

“The Chinese government are acting in an overtly confrontational manner in refusing us access to do our job,” he said.

Michael Pearson wrote from Atlanta. Ivan Watson and Vivian Kam reported from Hong Kong. CNN’s Anjali Tsui and Felicia Wong also contributed to this report.

G20 leaders agree on measures aimed at adding $2 trillion to global economy


By Jethro Mullen, CNN
November 16, 2014 — Updated 0915 GMT (1715 HKT)

G20、成長促進へ財政政策 日本は財政再建の意思示す

(CNN) — World leaders at the G20 summit have agreed to a series of measures aimed at boosting the global economy by more than $2 trillion.

The plans, if they’re fully put into action, would lift the combined gross domestic product of G20 nations by an extra 2.1% by 2018, a communique from the summit said on Sunday.

“We can do more for our people and the wider world when we work together,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who hosted the summit, told journalists.

The G20 is a group of the biggest advanced and emerging economies on the planet, accounting for two-thirds of the world’s population, 85% of global gross domestic product.

‘Millions of jobs’

The action plan from the summit, held this weekend in the city of Brisbane, contains more than 800 separate reform measures, Abbott said.

The strategies include “major investment initiatives, including actions to strengthen public investment and improve our domestic investment and financing climate,” according to the communique.

But international leaders agreeing to do something is one thing, actually putting it into action is another.

“We will do everything we humanly can to make them happen,” Abbott said of the measures, which are specific to each member country.

The International Monetary Fund and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development “will be regularly reviewing our progress to achieving these measures to keep us accountable,” he said.

If all of it is successfully put into practice, the overall package will “add more than $2 trillion to the global economy and create millions of jobs,” the communique said.
Climate change commitment

The statement also voiced support for “strong and effective action to address climate change.”

G20 members said they agreed to work to successfully adopt a measure “with legal force” under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The deadline is a major conference in Paris next year.

That commitment follows the historic climate change dealannounced last week by the United States and China, the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

“There was a lot of pressure here in Brisbane that the G20 follow through, continue the momentum about climate change,” said CNN’s Andrew Stevens.

Under the U.S.-China agreement, the United States would cut its 2005 level of carbon emissions by 26-28% before the year 2025. China would peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and will also aim to get 20% of its energy from zero-carbon emission sources by the same year.

Obama: Success

President Obama who spoke to journalists after Abbott, commended the summit for its work but also took the opportunity to wrap up his entire trip to Asia with a few words of self-praise.

“From trade to climate change to the fight against Ebola, this was a strong week for American leadership, the result will be more jobs for the American people, historic steps towards a cleaner and healthier planet, and progress towards saving lives not just in West Africa but eventually in other places,” he said.

“If you ask me I’d say that’s a pretty good week.”

The trip contrasts with the political reality Obama faces in Washington, after his party suffered heavily in the midterm elections this month.

Obama said of his Asian trip that he planned to “build on that momentum” after his return to Washington.