Minneapolis shooting shows the fatal flaws in police body cams. Saturday, July 15, 2017, Justine Ruszczyk, soon to be Damond, placed a call to Minneapolis 911 to report a possible sexual assault near her home. A short time after, she was dead. That is all that is known because the responding officers did not turn on their body cams.
Opinion by C J Oakes
What Did and Did Not Happen with Minneapolis Police
What did happen was that two Minneapolis police officers on patrol answered the call. Police get many such calls in the line of duty each day and surely, Officers Mohamed Noor and Matthew Harrity were not expecting to end their shift on administrative leave. To be clear, Officer Noor has been reported to have been involved in two previous questionable situations and he was the one who fired the fatal shot to the stomach of Justine Ruszczyk. Beyond that, little is known.
Little s known because prior to arriving at the scene, neither officer turned on their body cams; nor was the dash camera in the patrol car turned on. This highlights the fallacy of cameras — the fatal flaw in the sales pitches made by corporations such as Axon (formerly Taser). Axon sold the cameras to the Minneapolis Police Department last year and the move was touted as a victory for police-community relations. However, it has been said that everything looks good on paper — body cameras are a great example of this, as the shooting of Ms. Ruszczyk (Damond) shows.
Two Key Flaws with Commercial Police Body Cams?
Flaw number one has already been seen. Police must manually switch their cameras on. Why?
Likely because there is not enough memory nor energy within the camera to support continuous use. There could be a couple of reasons for this with the most likely keeping costs down. Of course, we have the technology to create body cams that could remain on for an entire shift, but the ones sold to Minneapolis PD by Axon do not. Or do they?
In reality, the cameras DO stay on the entire time. But they do not permanently record. They record a 30-second loop which saves when the officer switches to record. This provides a 30-second start to the recording prior to going ‘live.’ This is considered a flaw by some, but is part of the design. A flaw is something unintentional.
The other thing considered a flaw by some, but is not because again, it is an intentional part of the set-up is the cloud storage. Axon stores the data retrieved from these body cams on their website. To access the information, a person must have the login credentials. Also, because this information is stored in private hands, it takes more than a call to city hall to gain access to footage. In states where public access to such records is not permitted, this poses no new hurdle to uncovering the truth in questionable events.
But in states where public access to such footage is legislatively approved and generally takes a phone call to retrieve, this practice will circumvent the normal, legal, and customary way of doing things. If a police department does not want to give up such footage, a long court battle will be waged to force Axon (or similar companies) to provide it. Why? Because these are private businesses and they cannot give access to anyone not authorized.
This could be why, even though the body camera likely has something (it was turned on shortly after the shooting of Justine Ruszczyk), this footage has yet to be publically released. Instead, the Minneapolis Police Department and Mayor’s office are claiming they have nothing. And they are telling the truth. The nothing is floating in the cloud under the protective rights of a private corporation named Axon.
Is Axon to Blame?
To be clear, Axon (formerly Taser International) is a fine company which seems to want to develop life-saving technologies. In fact, their “mission to protect life is what drives us.” From its inception, Taser International promoted the Taser as a non-lethal means to stop suspects. It remains largely so, though there have been some fatalities from use and abuse off the units, but far fewer than would have occurred using bullet. And, on average the abuse is in line with any abuses in the line of work Axon supports. Abuse cannot fall on a manufacturer because even a baseball bat can be abused.
To blame are the law-makers who are not keeping up with technology, society for being blinded to the realities and limits of technology, and the police officers who naturally don’t want to be recorded doing their job. Who would? Even the fellow flipping burgers doesn’t like being recorded, but that is life today. Don’t like it, get a different job. But don’t blame the manufacturers like Axon who are trying to make policing better and safer.
And certainly don’t blame the victims such as Justine Ruszczyk. Gladly, that has not happened…yet. Stay tuned.