When mandatory police cams become public entertainment
“Excuse me,” Steve said to the waitress. “I specifically asked that you substitute bacon for the ground beef in my triple bacon burger.”
Steve and Kim were enjoying – well, Kim was enjoying – a brief lunch break from work.
As the waitress corrected Steve’s order, he turned to Kim. “So, what are you doing tonight after work?”
“I’m going to watch the police webcams,” she replied.
“What, the ones in New York City?” asked Steve.
“No, our local police department has them now. If you go to the Cams page at their website, you can see streaming video from every police officer who is on duty.”
It was true. While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.
As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.
Even Kim, who worked for a public safety software provider, found herself addicted to the feeds. She especially liked them when officers Jim and Pat (no last names used) were on patrol on Saturday nights. While most of the shift work was frankly boring, there was always the chance that Jim and Pat would run into some drug-crazed citizen who was trying to get to Disneyland via Frisbee. She still retained the video in which one citizen boldly shouted, “You can’t touch me! I know Officer Jim,” only to receive the reply, “I am Officer Jim. And I’m taking you to the station to get booked.”
As she was telling all of this to Steve, Kim noticed two officers walking into the restaurant – and then immediately noticed a young teenage boy running toward the officers, his face pointing directly at the camera on one of the officers’ chests.
“18th Street rules!” the teen shouted at the camera. Then looking at the officers’ faces, he shouted, “And what are you going to do – shoot me? You’re being watched! 18th Street!”
As the teen raced out of the restaurant, Kim heard one of the officers say something.
“Too bad for him that we were off duty and our cameras were turned off.”