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2015/06/17

[Trigger warning: police brutality and a little cold calculus]

Now that we've entered the age of ubiquitous fast video cameras, we are discovering that the police are pretty much getting up to all the shenanigans we've long suspected of them but could never prove. While each individual incident is terrible, in aggregate this increased visibility can only be good for the body public.

A cold and cynical (need better) side of me looks at the vague undercurrent of fear that these mostly-random outbursts of unwarranted violence creates in citizen interactions with the police, and wonders if a little of it might have ended up helpful for maintaining civil order with our relatively, ahem, fractious population. Actual crime rates are crazy low, whatever other impression the media strives to give, so one assumes the cops are doing something right at least.

Obviously, prior to all these cameras the bad behavior was more anecdotal than explicit, but it still created a little frisson of fear to keep the rabble in line. However, nowadays a little goes a lot further when it all ends up on national news. It's gotta be a really hard adjustment for cops out there to rein it in. All the rules have changed suddenly, a tectonic shift rather than the relatively more gentle shifts that prior technological changes have caused.

I can imagine how this situation suddenly appearing, with cops going to jail who would have easily lied their way out previously, can only make cops more paranoid and adversarial, potentially causing a negative feedback loop. That would really suck.

I remember watching a computer simulation of the honesty of public officials, which demonstrated how just a few individuals switching from relatively corrupt to honest can cause sudden sea changes in the vast majority of the population. One wonders if these cameras might serve as that nudge that will suddenly shift policing in America back to generally being in league with the community instead of acting as embattled foes.