Mark Steyn on Ferguson: Where Were the Dash Cams?

I haven’t had much to say about the Ferguson situation, because I’m just not sure there are any good guys here. Everyone seems to be acting badly. I’m also glad Mark Steyn channels my major issue about the case, which is why there wasn’t any dash cam:

The most basic problem is that we will never know for certain what happened. Why? Because the Ferguson cruiser did not have a camera recording the incident. That’s simply not credible. “Law” “enforcement” in Ferguson apparently has at its disposal tear gas, riot gear, armored vehicles and machine guns …but not a dashcam. That’s ridiculous. I remember a few years ago when my one-man police department in New Hampshire purchased a camera for its cruiser. It’s about as cheap and basic a police expense as there is…

… In 2014, when a police cruiser doesn’t have a camera, it’s a conscious choice. And it should be regarded as such. And, if we have to have federal subsidy programs for municipal police departments, we should scrap the one that gives them the second-hand military hardware from Tikrit and Kandahar and replace it with one that ensures every patrol car has a camera.

I couldn’t agree more. The state still has to prove its case (should there be one) beyond a reasonable doubt, but that’s going to end up being “he said, she said” rather than hard evidence, thanks to the lack of dash cam footage. In addition to the initial disproportionate response when all this got started, I also think it says something profound about the Ferguson, MO police department that in this day in age it’s elected to forego dash cams.

You don’t seem to hear the media speaking much about the lack of dash cams, probably because they are too busy showing the world what uneducated nitwits they are.

30 thoughts on “Mark Steyn on Ferguson: Where Were the Dash Cams?”

  1. While the dashcam has had plenty of time for adoption, so its absence is inexcusable, don’t stop there. The gold standard should be a dash cam, and a body cam w/ mic. Reduces police use of force dramatically, reduces civilian complaints against he police even more, and the privacy issues are entirely manageable.

    1. Beat me to it. First quick step is multiple cams in car and then followed up with body cams. For some reason if that happened I’d wager that for some strange reason that you’d see a significantly reduction in the count of public citizens “reaching for the officers gun” or “making threatening towards the officer” and therefore a lot fewer American citizens getting summarily executed.

    2. I disagree.

      The gold standard should be a dash cam, a body cam w/ mic, and a legal presumption that if the camera footage is missing then the cop is lying.

    3. Body cams not only reduce civilian complaints – it seems to reduce the number of FALSE complaints even more than compliants in general, and saves the locality money.

      Because, while there are idiots out there, most people realize they cannot play “Lawsuit Lottery” when Officer Unfriendly has Candid Camera footage showing that the complaintant is flat out lying.

      Body cams protect both civil rights AND cops.

  2. Perhaps in a city the size of Ferguson, you have a point about all vehicles having cameras. However the blanket statement about “its a conscious choice” should be tempered a bit. In our local department, we keep the old car with 380,000 miles out back in case the “new” car with 268,000 miles breaks down again. We can’t afford a $5000 camera system to sit behind the building. If we have to switch to the back up car, does that make us full of evil intent? Half of our department is volunteers who attended the police academy on their own time and take vacation from their regular jobs for court appearances and training classes.
    Yes, we got one of those evil Hummers. So far we used it to rescue a family from a flood, find two stolen cars on forestry land, and used it for patrol during a huge snow storm.
    We don’t live in Mayberry any more. If a wifebeater is barricaded in his house with his deer rifle, would you want to walk up on the porch like Andy Griffith or would you rather have something a little more substantial than a polyester shirt to help you rescue the hostage?
    Do some agencies abuse their power? Sure. However, you shouldn’t paint all police agencies as evil. When anti-gunners try to equate everyone who owns guns with mass murderers, don’t you get angry? Let’s don’t use the same tactic of blaming everyone for the indiscretions of a few.

    1. I’m really not trying to paint all police or police agencies as evil. I get it’s a tough job, and I honestly don’t have a problem with police having AR-15s and body armor (what some would call ‘assault gear’) for situations like you describe.

      But I think dash cams are still a good idea, especially for urban or suburban departments. That way you know what happened, and you don’t get caught up with the bad guys making bogus accusations with nothing but other people’s words to refute it.

      As it is, the evidence coming out contradicts the witness accounts, and supports the police accounts, but dash cam footage could have (not saying necessarily would have) been stronger evidence earlier on that the witnesses were full of shit, without having to wait for coroner’s reports and other investigations.

    2. Choosing not to prioritize recording devices is not an “indiscretion.” It is an institutional priority.

      The outright hostility of the police on the scene in Ferguson to recording devices (how many journalists have been roughed up and detained now?) makes one wonder what their issue with being recorded is. Even reputable reporters from major national news organizations are being commanded to cease filming and taking photos. I wonder how the unwashed masses with cameras are treated?

      I understand recordings can be taken out of context, but what better way to control the narrative than to have a complete and accurate recording of the events to debunk inaccurate claims?

      As for cost issues… $5K seems high. Here’s a department that equipped all officers with body cams for about $1500 each (link). Ferguson PD says they could install for $3K (link).

      If that’s too expensive, Amazon has digital recorders for $40 that boast 100 hours of battery life and 1600 hours of recording time. Such a device would be able to clearly establish verbal altercations, verbal commands, timelines of critical incidents, and so on.

      But you know, $40/officer may be too much. In that case, god forbid we use some of the DOJ grant money to ask for recording devices. Heck, Ferguson RECEIVED a DOJ grant for dash cams and didn’t implement them.

      The results of using recording devices on the job seem positive:
      “Police in Rialto, California, have been using cameras to record interactions with the public since 2012. According to a New York Times article, the number of complaints against police dropped by 88 percent in the first year, and the use of force by officers fell by 60 percent.”

      An institution that shies away from tools which promote accountability and self-regulation doesn’t seem very professional to me.

      1. Stunning stats on the Rialto PD. I have to go research those numbers because on the face of it that is a very damning statement towards that police force.

        Just think of the money savings resulting from a 60% reduction in the use of force (less bookings, less serious charges and court expense, less jail time, less medical charges)

        1. Note that the rate of excessive force complaints dropped more than the rate of use of force overall.

          In other words, it’s probably screening out the overwhelming majority of false complaints of excessive force.

          These data indicate that “Cop Cams” actually protect cops against BS accusations and lawsuits more than than they protect citizens from excessive force, by virtue of the fact that most excessive force complaints are false.

          So, a realtively inexpensive technology, that can actually save more taxpayer money than it costs to implement, that documents what’s going on so that citizen’s rights are protected, and protects cops from false claims?

          Dude, gimme more of that! :)

            1. Don’t need the raw numbers — comparing rates to rates is perfectly accurate.

              The raw numbers only really help if you happen to know what the “proper” range for those values would be — but looking at rate drops tells you IMMEDIATELY that something is happening, and in which direction.

    3. In our local department, we keep the old car with 380,000 miles out back in case the “new” car with 268,000 miles breaks down again. We can’t afford a $5000 camera system to sit behind the building.

      I see nothing but excuses, here. Reexamine your budget. Ask your local government for extra single-purpose funding. Apply for grants.

      You can get a Hummer from the feds, but not a couple of grand for a dashcam? You’re not even trying.

      And yes, “it’s a conscious choice.”

    4. Please get the defensive chip off your shoulder, and listen to what people are really saying.

      1. A Humvee is just a big car, not really an armored vehicle. Have you heard a single soul complain about police departments owning them? I sure haven’t; the unhappiness has been entirely about APCs and MRAPs and stuff like that.

      2. No one says an armed hostage/kidnapping situation doesn’t require special care, but that’s not what Steyn and the rest of us are complaining about.

    5. It’s riskier to be a garbage man than a cop and that ain’t no swipe at garbage men. Being a cop ain’t even in the top 10. IIRC, being a fisherman is >10X as risky as a LEO.

  3. On the general subject:

    “While I understand the passions and the anger that arise over the death of Michael Brown, giving into that anger by looting, or carrying guns, and even attacking the police only serves to raise tensions and stir chaos…”

    I like how store owners protecting their businesses are being conflated with looters here.

  4. Dashcams are not magic wands, Mr. Steyn. There are a full 270° out of any cruiser that they don’t cover.

    1. They also have a tendency to become inoperable, particularly in cases where officer is accused of misconduct…

      1. Inoperable cameras in instances like that should be considered like “lost documentation” at an IRS audit. IOW, assumed guilty and punishable.

    2. Excuses, excuses. They don’t need to be magic wands since the physics of optics is pretty well set in stone. Modern bodycams have huge panoramic views and can practically see your nose and toes and everything in between.

      LEO’s have to get resigned to the fact that their misdeeds (or their silence of partners misdeeds) over the past 10-20 years are going to make these bodycams mandatory. Remember it was YOUR choice.

      Also communities have to make sure that there is oversight of these bodycams so that missing, lost, or disabling of these bodycams should be defined as a very serious and legally punishable offense.

      Finally, all the above is written by a 50+ YO VERY conservative middle class guy who has had a 180 degree shift of opinion away from the LEOs over the past 10 years due to all the actions of rogue PD’s. LEO agencies support from the public is on quickly eroding sand. They’ve never had the support from the Left, the Libertarians are recently gone, and the Right is heading for the doors.

      1. Tam is right, though. Cameras are not a miracle-cure.

        You need to pair the cameras with a legal presumption that if footage of a disputed incident is missing for any reason, then the cop is lying.

  5. The assumption the police are always right has taken a hit since small video cameras became available. Also the fact that police all over have resisted the right of people to record them is another hit on thier honesty. So dash cams though won’t help in all situations but are necessary. I agree with body cams also. Police have been a terror on people for some time. It helps to weed out the bad cops.

    1. The assumption the police are always right has taken a hit since small video cameras became available.

      Don’t you just hate it when truth and reality intrude on your worldview? /sarc

  6. Step one is remove the military hardware. I saw 93,000 auto weapons were given to police last year. WTF are they planning to do with these? I know what we’d do: waste a shit-ton of ammo. But the cops? They ain’t in this for the hobby.

    Step Two: make all federal assistance reliant upon officer-worn cameras. No cameras, no money. Simple.

    I generally hate the stong-federal model we’ve seen built, but if we got the tools we might as well use them to good effect. We might as well twist the arms of the police state to support liberty in tiny little ways.

    Cameras: Every cop. Every Interaction. Every Time.

    Or no money.

    1. Mmake all federal assistance reliant upon officer-worn cameras. No cameras, no money. Simple.


    1. It seems to be browser-dependent. I’m seeing the problem in Chrome, but not Firefox.

      I’ve also noticed this happen before. It seems to be an intermittent issue.

    2. It is fixed. When someone pastes huge links instead of using the link html tag below, it screws things up. I identified and fixed the comment.

  7. Cameras for police is a good idea. Maybe, also just as good for us that carry a gun?
    Just need to find a product that is small enough to not be noticed and functional enough to not require too much effort to maintain.

    1. Lee,
      you don’t even want to go there. It would be very easy to create requirements that would make it nearly impossible for most people to meet. The Progs would love to make it “no camera=no gun” for civilians. Do you have a maintenance dept to care for all your required gear? To issue immediate replacements, if it has problems just before leaving your home or business? You will spend MUCH more on it than on your guns and ammo and other gun gear.

      I could go on and on, and it’s not even my area of expertise. It’s a really stupid idea to contemplate, as the end results would eliminate defensive gun use for nearly everyone. In theory yes, in real life, absolutely NO!!! There are valid reasons for cops to be required. Don’t try to turn it around on us.

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