Skubick: The 'Big Brother' debate about police body cams

Somewhere out there, Eric Arthur Blair is smiling. 

Mr. Blair, who wrote under the name George Orwell, penned a nifty little tome called 'Nineteen Eight-Four' in which he coined the term "Big Brother." For those of you who consume only blogs and nothing else, the book captured the notion that government, Big Brother, would eventually monitor everything you do and some would say, Eric was spot on.

Enter the debate over body cameras for police officers.

The unrest and rioting in Ferguson, Misssouri re-ignited the national debate about installing cop cameras to record what really happens when push comes to shove.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was one of the first big city guys to embrace the notion. On one hand he reported that a Ferguson-like outbreak could not happen in Motown where the police had a good working relationship with citizens. But the former prosecutor-turned-mayor is not silly. He knows stuff can happen and when it does, if the proceedings are recorded for everyone to see, the "evidence" could prove who did what to whom.

Now comes the Michigan legislature getting into the act. Rep. Rose Mary Robinson (D-Detroit) wants the cameras. And some of her colleagues agree.

"There's evidence suggesting that body cameras lessen the incident of police brutality…So it's a great idea," argues Sen.Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park.)

Former sheriff turned GOP state Sen. Rick Jones adds a bi-partisan note of support. "What cameras do is exonerate the police when they're doing the right thing."

And vice versa from Rep. Fred Durhall III (D-Detroit.) "We've had a lot of problems. We've had shootings in the past and questionable situations."

"This is also for the safety of the officers," he adds.

Late last year Governor Rick Snyder tip-toed into the debate, concluding that it was "premature" to equip every police officer, but he did endorse the concept on a pilot basis. He added, however, the real solution was to improve police community relations with better training and Sen. Johnson concurs.

All of this is well and good but if the state gets into this, how will this be policed? (If you pardon the pun.)

Think about it. 

A police officer is smack dab in the middle of a Rodney King type assault. Is this officer going to turn off the camera or leave it on for all the world to see? And if he or she exercises the off switch, what are the consequences of that?

In reality, the only way around that is to equip every citizen with a camera, just in case the authorities go rogue.

Well you can have that debate until the cows come home but it may be moot given the financial restraints on state coffers.

Adding a dose of reality to all this is the chair of the House Budget committee.   

"I don't have the money in the General Fund," reports Rep. Al Pscholka (R-West Michigan.)

He's starring at an annual drain of an extra $500-600 million a year to underwrite a hefty tax break for the auto companies and others who are cashing in at an alarming rate on post recession "keep-them-alive" incentives.

His suggestion for the Mike Duggan's of the world is to cash in a few chits with the man in the White House. "If it's something the feds want to find, we'll take a look at it."   But in the mean time he advises the pro-cop camera folks "not to get your hopes up."

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