A couple of weeks ago, Salt Lake Police Chief Chris Burbank and I were discussing his intention of putting cameras on his cops. A few of the officers already have them.
The chief said the cameras were starting to pay off, especially in the area of citizens' complaints about officers. He cited the example of a furious woman who called about a speeding ticket.
When the woman finished her list of accusations, Burbank explained the entire traffic stop had been captured on the officer's camera. Did she want to come to the station and watch it?
"Never mind," she snarled and hung up.
The cameras work both ways. In addition to recording the behavior of citizens, they also record the officers' actions.
I probably would have gotten fired as a cop had I worn a body camera. While I was talking with the chief, an incident replayed in my brain camera.
In the early days of my police career, I was one of several hundred officers sent to quell a riot. A rock concert had gone bad and thousands of people were trashing the place.
We formed ranks between the mob and the bandstand. That's when some people in the mob started throwing rocks. Several officers in the line near me were hit.
Eventually, it was my turn. In rapid succession I was hit in the shoulder, chest and leg. I fell out of the ranks and went to the rear to recover. That's when I noticed where the rocks were coming from.
Way in the back of the mob was this guy who was really throwing. Hairy, out-of-control and drunk, he still had an arm on him. I watched him pitch rocks, pieces of brick and even part of a picnic table at us.
Annoyed and bored two very dangerous conditions for me I picked up a rock about the size of a golf ball. Nice heft. Good ballistic qualities. Winding up, I let fly without much hope.
The guy probably thought he'd been hit by a meteorite. The rock hurtled in out of the dark and drilled him right between the horns. Sparks shot out of his ears. He went down hard and stayed there for the rest of the party.
Oh, it didn't kill him. In fact, I later saw him being helped to a car by a couple of his rock-throwing friends. He was bloody and dizzy, just like some of my coworkers. Thirty years later I hope he still has a hard time synchronizing his blinks.
As a police officer, I am officially not proud of that moment. It was wrong. However, on a personal level I got to tell you that it was enormously satisfying and it still makes me smile.
Fortunately, body cameras hadn't been invented yet. Two things would have happened if I had been wearing one. I would have been severely disciplined or even fired when my supervisors saw the images of my very unprofessional conduct.
Also, the video would have eventually found its way onto YouTube where the guy would have racked up another 5 million hits from people who enjoy seeing dumb asses get what they have coming.
Much as a body camera would have worked against me back then, I still think they're a good idea. Cameras may not be the final arbiter in a situation, but they're a hell of a lot better than he said, she said.
We should all wear one. Everyone might have their own opinion about what happened, but everyone can't have their own set of camera facts.
Robert Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.