The Carceral State: Dept of Things That Aren’t Solutions

The Carceral State: Dept of Things That Aren’t Solutions January 3, 2015

Three links. Happy New Year!

Not a solution: police body cameras:

…Despite the push for body cameras by policymakers and politicians, many organizers (both in New York and around the country) are not entirely convinced that body cameras are a meaningful reform—especially after Daniel Pantaleo was not indicted for killing Eric Garner on camera.

Andrew Padilla is disturbed “that all this energy towards accountability…can be flipped into increased surveillance in communities of color and increased budgets to police.” The body cameras point at civilians, giving the police’s perspective of the interaction. In many videos released from officer body cameras, the police officer has their gun drawn but it cannot be seen in the shot. “Body cameras on police [are] fundamentally the opposite of cop watch,” Andrew Padilla argued. “Body cameras on police…record civilians. In cop watch, you record police.”

Other New York cop watchers, like Julien Terrell, worry about who will have authority over the recordings, and argue that the recordings should go to an independent body “with teeth” and should not be handled internally within the NYPD. Dennis Flores, who has experience with officers attempting to withhold and tamper with video and recording evidence told The Nation, “The NYPD already uses cameras [referring to TARU and CCTV surveillance cameras], and we don’t have any access to them. There’s no oversight. There’s no way for anyone to force them to release that type of footage. It’s at the police department’s discretion and the city’s law department. So they hold evidence when they know that you’re innocent. I expect the same thing with these body cameras.”

A Fusion investigation found that “the way body cameras are used usually serve police more than citizens charging misconduct. And in the data from two cities provided to Fusion, there was little evidence police body cameras reduced police involved shootings or use-of-force incidents.” Fusion determined the main reason body cameras tend to help police more than civilians: turning the camera on and off is at the officers’ discretion. In Albuquerque and New Orleans, during high profile police shootings, the police officer’s camera was off while they killed an unarmed civilian. And in New Orleans, cameras were off for 60 percent of use-of-force incidents. Although body cameras are advertised as a tool that helps keep police misconduct down, the reality is a little more complicated. The investigation shows that body cameras are not likely to lower use of force by police officers but more likely to absolve police officers of wrongdoing.

Taser (the leading company selling body cameras) has seen its stock price double since Michael Brown was killed in August.


Not a solution: centralized policing:

…Technocrats are constantly calling for consolidated regional governments, so it’s no surprise to see them taking an opportunity to do it again. But some libertarians have echoed parts of their critique, not least because these local authorities really do behave atrociously sometimes. In September, my former Reason colleague Radley Balko filed a devastating dispatch from St. Louis County in The Washington Post, showing in close detail how the region’s towns squeeze the poor with petty fines and fees. (“I was actually let go as a municipal judge from a town because I wasn’t generating enough revenue,” one former jurist recalled.) Balko cited the region’s splintered system as a core part of the problem: “there are just too many towns, too many municipal governments, too many municipal employees, and not enough revenue to support them.” That financial shortfall, he wrote, creates an incentive to squeeze people still more.

That incentive is certainly there, and some towns are shameless about pursuing it. Last week, after months of negative coverage of precisely this practice, we learned that Ferguson plans to deal with a budget gap by issuing more tickets. But it isn’t self-evident that centralization is the solution. Indeed, it could make things worse.

Consider a series of studies conducted by the economist and political scientist Elinor Ostrom and her colleagues in the 1970s.


Not a solution: progressivism:

…National Democratic legislators of the 1960s are well known for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, which did serve to equalize treatment of the races under the law. They are less well known for a slew of federal crime laws that put record numbers of black and brown people behind bars. The Interstate Wire Act of 1961 and the Gambling Devices Act of 1962 cracked down on interstate gambling, and the Juvenile Delinquency Prevention and Control Act of 1968 authorized block grants that enhanced the states’ abilities to incarcerate youth. The cornerstone crime law of Lyndon Johnson’s administration was the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, which is rarely discussed in textbook accounts of Johnson’s “Great Society” programs. It established the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), which “swelled the flow of federal funds to state and local police departments” for recruitment and training of officers and began what we now know as the militarization of the police. The LEAA funded the purchase of helicopters, gas masks, infrared cameras, riot gear, smoke and gas grenades, projectiles, launching cartridges, and flares by police departments.

more (and I wonder if this timeline also suggests that while the late ’70s-’80s law-and-order ascendance of the Right was a response to rising crime and violence, that rise in disorder was itself a response to police and state crackdowns. As we’ve seen quite recently, the state creates its own chaos–the demand for order breeds abuse of power. So order is just a legally-protected form of chaos.)

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!