Nov 5, 2015

Who Watches the Watchers? Policing the Police and everyone else.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchers? A question that goes back at least to a Roman poet named Juvenal who died roughly 2,000 years ago. It would seem that abuses by those with power have been a problem for a very long time.... You might say that it is a basic human flaw.

The recent series of highly publicized murders carried out by police brought the question to mind quite forcefully. Then, a few days ago I heard an interview on KUT, the local public radio station. The interview was on the subject of sex crimes committed by Police. It seems to work like this:

  • See a woman alone in a car. 
  • Pull her over for whatever, they can always come up with some reason to pull you over. 
  • Tell the woman to spread her legs, open her mouth, or go to jail. 
  • If she is not quick enough hold a gun to her head.
The Huffington Post has a great article on the subject with many examples and data that is better than my memory of an interview on the radio. BTW, Ted Bundy used to pretend to be a cop so he could pull women over and rape and murder them. If it is good enough for a serial killer it should be good enough for a cop, right? (I met Ted Bundy once at a party when he was studying law at the University of Utah.)

If enough women complain about this behavior the cop might get fired. They do not usually get charged they just move on to the next town where they start all over again. Sounds just like what happens to pedophiliac Catholic Priests. Hard to believe that cop rapists and priest rapists get treated the same way. Their powerful organizations cover up for them and let them go on to rape again.

The interesting thing is that we know about murderous cops because people with smart phones record them and post the videos to the Internet. Once on the Internet the cops can not get them back. They can try to suppress them but they can't. The power of the individual with a video camera and an Internet connections is at least equal to, if not greater than, the power of the police to suppress. But, you don't commit rape when there are other people around. So, not so many videos of cops raping women (and men... I should not leave out that they also rape men) make it on the Internet.

The answer to the 2,000 year old question is that *we* watch the watchers. I've already seen video of a police officer attacking a woman who was recording a police beat down. He didn't figure that someone else was also recording what was going on. We need as many cameras out there as we can get. And, they need to be under our control. Police dash cam and body cam recordings are just to easy to lose.

This answer became obvious when the beat down of Rodney King was videotaped and the tape was sent to a local television station. The Internet really wasn't ready for the job back then, but it is now. We must record what is going on and we must make sure that everyone sees what really happened.

So, I would like to suggest a little citizen action that we can take to do even a better job of watching the watchers. I would like someone or some group of someones to create a little high tech bump. What we need is a bump you can stick on a car, or a door, or anywhere. What I want is a bump with the ability to keep a recording of at least the last 24 hours of video and sound. The device should have a wifi interface and maybe USB connections. It should be battery powered with a solar cell to recharge it. It would be nice if it recorded in the infrared and ultraviolet as well as the normal visual spectrum. It must be cheap. I know I can put together something like that starting with an Arduino or Raspberry Pi and off the shelf add on boards. But, it would be better, and no doubt cheaper, to build it as a single unit. One critical feature is that the only way to erase the stored recording is to destroy the device. (Cast the whole thing in a solid block of epoxy?) But anyone can download the current stored recording.

The idea is that I can have these on my car and one stuck on the side of my house and so can you. They can be put most anywhere and if you put them where they don't belong you should go to jail. These things would create a fair witness. An unbiased recording of any thing that happens. It is important that anyone can download the recording but no one can destroy or modify the recording without making it obvious that they did so. The wifi connection would also let these things be monitored in real time.

My little bump sounds like on hell of an invasion of privacy. And it will be if used incorrectly. On the other hand they would make it a lot safer for people when they are walking down the street or when they are pulled over by a cop. If there is always a witness with a video recorder there is very little chance of getting away with a crime. Every programmer knows that you are more careful about your coding if you know other people are going to look at it. Knowing that you might be being watched just might help everyone, including cops, behave a little bit better.

I have known many cops. Every cop I have known has been a great guy. I have been helped out by cops I did not know and will never see again. I hate what is happening right now. I hate it more because it seems it has always gone on and cops have used their power to cover it up. I hate that this could happen. But it has, and it does, and something must be done to fix the problem. If you want to see the cockroaches you have to turn on a light. Video cameras and the Internet are the most powerful light ever made.

While most cops are great people, there is something about image of cops that attracts bullies the same way the job of Catholic Priest seems to attract pedophiles. I wouldn't be surprised if the job of surgeon attracts sadists. Some jobs just attract certain kinds of people. Have you ever met an extroverted programmer? You have? Really? Are you sure? Ever met a corporate executive that you suspected was a sociopath, a psychopath? I hope you get my point.

OK, all that feel good stuff aside, we need to use technology to create a fair witness system that is not controlled by police or the government. It needs to be a citizen action for the protection of our selves. The goal here is not to undermine the police. The goal is to make it possible to trust them again. Do you want to see the day when it is considered self defense to shoot a cop just because the cop pulled you over where you would be alone and it was after dark? That could happen if we do not do something to reestablish trust between the police and citizens. OK, in large parts of the country we need to establish trust between the police and the citizens for the first time.

I hate to admit it, but right now the idea of being pulled over by a cop scares me. I never thought that could happen. I want everyone to be able to trust a cop all the time and I want cops to be able to trust citizens as much as is possible.


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