Another flabbergastingly stupid comment from Jim Pasco

Since the issue of filming police became a hot topic in the mainstream press (see here), I’ve been very interested in hearing the arguments that police use to justify placing limits on the right to record cops. To me, the idea that people ought to be allowed to film police (and that they should actually film the police) seems like a no-brainer and gets reinforced just about every time I open a newspaper, so I’m interested in trying to understand exactly why someone would oppose it. What I’ve noticed is that virtually every single argument leveled against filming the police is just downright stupid.

Jack McKenna: an example of why you shouldn't "put some faith and trust in our authority figures."

Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, provides the textbook example. Some of Pasco’s thoughts were reported by Radley Balko in a Reason Magazine article back in August. For reference, here are Pasco’s comments (and see here for my response):

“There’s no chain of custody with these videos,” Pasco says. “How do you know the video hasn’t been edited? How do we know what’s in the video hasn’t been taken out of context? With dashboard cameras or police security video, the evidence is in the hands of law enforcement the entire time, so it’s admissible under the rules of evidence. That’s not the case with these cell phone videos.”

“You have 960,000 police officers in this country, and millions of contacts between those officers and citizens. I’ll bet you can’t name 10 incidents where a citizen video has shown a police officer to have lied on a police report,” Pasco says. “Letting people record police officers is an extreme and intrusive response to a problem that’s so rare it might as well not exist. It would be like saying we should do away with DNA evidence because there’s a one in a billion chance that it could be wrong. At some point, we have to put some faith and trust in our authority figures.”

— Radley Balko, “‘Police Officers Don’t Check Their Civil Rights at the Station House Door'” (Aug. 9, 2010), Reason Magazine

Recently, Pasco was quoted again on the issue of filming police, this time in a USA Today cover story:

“The proliferation of cheap video equipment is presenting a whole new dynamic for law enforcement,” says Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union. “It has had a chilling effect on some officers who are now afraid to act for fear of retribution by video. This has become a serious safety issue. I’m afraid something terrible will happen.”

— Kevin Johnson, “For cops, citizen videos bring increased scrutiny” (Oct. 15th, 2010), USA Today

Back in August, Pasco’s slam dunk argument was to challenge advocates of filming the police to come up with ten cases of videos proving that cops lied. I would love to issue an analogous challenge to Pasco: can he think of ten police encounters (or “contacts” as he would call them) where video cameras have created “serious safety issues”?

Unfortunately, I think the chances of Pasco ever responding to such a challenge are slim, so instead I’ll just point out what should be obvious to anyone who has spent even five minutes thinking about the issue of filming police: the presence of a camera is never a safety concern for police officers. If anything, videos of police encounters are a boon “officer safety” because they provide reliable information about the encounter (and, for the same reason, they can protect officers from false reports of misconduct). The only reason a police officer should be afraid of “retribution by video” is if he or she is trying to do something that is illegal or violates department policy. As many cops like to say, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to hide.”

Pasco, by my estimation, will never be able to come up with ten such incidents because they simply do not exist. Indeed, Pasco seems to have already tacitly acknowledged that he cannot meet this challenge. His remark that he is “afraid something terrible will happen” indicates that, to the best of his knowledge, the terrible somethings that he imagines refer merely to hypothetical future events rather than anything that has ever actually happened in the real world.

Worse, the “chilling effect” that Pasco refers to, if it actually exists, is a symptom of incompetence. Police should be watched because there is a huge potential for them to be abusive (and if exposing abusive cops is “retribution by video,” then so be it), so if the class of legally-privileged protectors can’t do their jobs properly while being scrutinized, that’s not an argument for scrutinizing them less; it’s an argument for firing them and replacing them with people who are less camera shy. It’s not particularly uncommon for people working private sector jobs to be filmed constantly while working if their employers deem it necessary, so complaints about members of the public filming the police are just demands for special treatment.

  • Jenn

    He might not be stupid. Might just be conniving and evil.

  • Bob

    I wonder if people like this actually believe the crap they are saying.

  • Dr. Q

    I was originally going to suggest that Pasco probably wasn’t being totally honest — he is, after all, a representative for an organization that works on behalf of a powerful special interest — but I figured dissecting his arguments was enough.

  • Johnathan Doe

    I am a member of the FOP. They don’t represent me in my job, as I am actually under a different, weak union. The only reason I am a member of the FOP is for their legal defense. I join a lodge for $20 or $30, then pay the state FOP $100 for basically pre-paid legal. The FOP doesn’t always represent the views of all cops, and sometimes they piss off a good % of the cops. One case is the assault weapons ban. For some reason, many FOP heads (so it seems) supports this ban. A lot of street cops I know don’t like this. These folks take the view that it will keep LEOs safe, but many of us know that you could ban assault weapons tomorrow and the only ones who would have them would be the thugs. We also know that the best defense against these weapons are similar weapons. You combine that with the fact that all of us are a car crash, gun shot, etc. from being a civilian (ie: on disability), and many of us don’t back the FOP on the assault weapons ban. When this issue came up, the FOP got a lot of heat, and admitted as such in one of their newsletters. They don’t get a dime extra from me, at least the national lodge, because of their anti-gun stance.

    When it comes to filming cops, Pasco knows damn well that there are plenty of cops out there lying. His comment about ten cops lying could easily be proven true. The fact is that not all these cases make the mainstream media outlets. A lot of these cops get fired, or resign instead. Pasco is just doing what Pasco is paid to do, support whatever he thinks the cops want. Some cops are very closed off, and very protective of themselves and their work. Pasco knows this, and he knows what the future results will be as more and more cops get filmed, without interference. Unfortunately for Pasco, I support the public being able to film and record police. There are idiots in every profession, and even if they put on a “good cop” act in front of me, other cop co-workers, and the bosses, I want people who they may victimize (which could be my relatives, or even Pasco’s relatives) be able to record and document any issues that could develop within an interaction.

    Pasco is unfortunately not going to win this battle. Too many states allow this activity. I do believe that we are going to eventually get a supreme court case that will dictate how far folks must stay away, if they can yell/scream while officers are talking to someone (witnesses, suspects, etc.). This will happen because some cops will continue to use “disorderly conduct” or “interfering with public official” type charges as a way to punish the person videotaping only because the officer(s) don’t like it.

  • Frank

    I sent authoritarian Jim Pasco 10 examples the day Balko posted that piece and never heard back. Of course, I knew he wouldn’t respond since he could probably name 10 examples off the top of his head. No surprise, to get his job you have to be a liar.

  • John P.

    The police fear the video camera in the hands of the public because it does nothing but confirm and prove what most everyone already thinks and we all know.

    That the cops in this country are corrupt, excessive and will outright lie and cover up more times than not.

    Since the dawn of the Internet, Youtube, Blogs and Cellphone cams the amount of much needed light that has been shed upon this bankrupt establishment is huge and needs to keep growing.

    If the cops fear the public with a video camera then they are admitting they are up to no good, they are admitting in so many words they are fearful that their criminal actions will be recorded and presented to the public for all to see.

  • Aaron Kinney

    Jonathan Doe,

    Interesting comment. I didn’t realize lots of cops on the street had problems with the FOP. Thanks for the info, and good to hear that some cops out there got their thinkin’ caps on.

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