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Kirby: Smile! You’re on public camera

By Robert Kirby

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Aug 24 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Aug 24 2014 01:01 am

Police work has come a long way since my day. When I started in 1978, I was issued a handgun, a badge and a used police car with a radio in it. I bought my own uniforms.

Two years later, local law enforcement technology took a huge leap forward when the Utah Highway Patrol announced that all of its troopers would be equipped with pocket calculators to help them investigate traffic crashes.

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When I left 11 years later, not much else had changed. I had all of the aforementioned stuff (including a calculator) and … well, nothing else.

I take that back. Cellphones were just coming into use. Alas, they were the size of shoeboxes and only the watch commanders were allowed to touch them.

Also, the department was the proud owner of two computers, neither of which left the station or had any more processing power than the watch I currently wear.

Today, cops have computers in their cars and pockets. They have phones, GPS trackers, home confinement monitors, Tasers, aerial drones, armored vehicles, body armor and weapons that contain more ammunition in a single magazine than I carried in my patrol car.

Dash-mounted video cameras in patrol cars were considered state of-the-art when I left. Today, they’re putting cameras on cops themselves. It’s a great idea.

I can see how much easier a video camera would have made it to prove when I was spit on, cussed out, slammed into and swung at by people who always seemed to have a different view of things when it was time for court.

The judge wouldn’t have had to take my word that I observed [name of public official] behind a drive-in movie engaged in a moment of intense personal reflection with his pants around his ankles.

Even better, when [an ecclesiastical leader’s wife] showed up in court dressed primly and smiling shyly, I would have been able to prove that the last time I saw her she was wandering drunkenly through a public park.

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A body camera would have also worked against me. Like the time I wrote "then I ordered the suspect to drop the gun or I would be forced to shoot" when what I actually said was, "Drop the gun, you stupid [deleted.]"

Or that time I pulled all the hair out of a shoplifter’s head when I opted to use his rug as a control hold during a physical altercation over a package of shrimp.

I’m thinking that a video camera would have made it more difficult for me to overstep the limits of my authority, while at the same time giving the public a reality check about its own behavior.

An important question is who gets to see these videos and judge them? Cops get called to a lot of strange places. Should those videos be made public?

In its demand for answers, should the public be entitled to see these videos on something like YouTube in order to make sure justice was properly served?

Hey, would you want the world watching (over and over again) your loved one being shot?

If your dementia-afflicted mother is caught walking around naked in a grocery store, should we all get a chance to see if she came in that way or if the cops stole her clothing?

I’m guessing many people are going to cry, "Cover-up!" if these videos are only viewed by investigators and court officers.

But would they be willing to have the worst moments of their own lives available for everyone else’s viewing pleasure, or would they want those covered up?

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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