​Will Police Cars Start Watching Their Officers?

The LAPD is trying to make its officers better drivers, but police departments around the country should also be monitoring the way cops interact with civilians.

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Nov 10 2014, 6:10pm

LAPD cars are getting outfitted with some new tracking technology. Photo via ATOMIC Hot Links

Recently, 50 Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) cars ​we​re outfitted with test versions of a new technology that will track the police vehicles and keeps tabs on whether officers are wearing their seat belts, among other things. The devices, manufactured by software firm Telogis and placed in Ford cars, may eventually be put in as many as 1,800 LAPD vehicles.

Whether police officers will accept being watched by their superiors in this way is hard to say, but some cops think these tracking devices—similar to what insurance companies offer with services like OnStar—might encourage officers to drive more carefully and make sure they're obeying the laws they're enforcing. 

Of course, these days, when the public considers technologies that might help keep police in line, they tend to think of cameras—either on a dashboard, on a cop's uniform, or in the hands of civilians. Here we're talking about something that will mostly be about cops protecting themselves from harm. Not entirely, of course—scores o​f ​cops are killed in car crashes each year.

Monitoring cops undoubtedly has its benefits both for the public and for police departments. But whether a costly measure like this is worth the effort is another matter. If we're concerned that cops go unpunished for behaving badly, an internal measure like this wouldn't necessarily help solve deep institutional problems facing some departments. Presumably, even if they're watching for speeding and other dangerous driving behavior, officials will still have the option to excuse it and other bad behavior. If we're intent on providing cops with even more equipment and technology, it seems a lot more important to outfit every cop car with a dashcam and give every officer a body cam that can't be easily turned off. The LAPD is actually already experimenting with body cams, though early tests show they have a tendency to fall off. And only one ​in four LAPD cars has a camera installed. Superiors had better teach the rookies how to drive safe—the public still needs evidence of officers' use of force more than anything else.​

Now onto this week's bad cops:

-First, though, some good news: California's Proposit​ion 47 is another amazing blow to the US prison system. People are already going home now that their drug possession charges have turned from felonies to misdemeanors. Other former felonies include shoplifting, forgery, and zoning violations, and apparently something like 40,000 people could be going home instead of to prison or jail, thanks to California's still overburdened penal system. Dang. Turns out voting can do something good after all. 

-According to Muckrock, 13 states refused the site's requests to get info about the Pentagon's 1030 program, which transfers military surplus goods to police departments all over the country. Notably, Louisiana officials said that agreeing to the request would cost $5,000 due to the necessity of printing 20,000 pages of documents.

-A Greenacres, Florida, police officer reportedly broke a 14-year-old's arm during an arrest on October 21. The unnam​ed teen allegedly refused to hand over her cellphone—which contained evidence of a fight—to officer Jared Nash. There was some kind of scuffle, the girl was arrested for resisting arrest, and the girl's father says they have the X-rays to prove that her arm was broken. The police are investigating the incident.

-On Thursday, according to video uploaded to YouTube, Saratoga County, New York, deputy Shawn Glans slapped a man on the head and swore at him after the driver refused to allow the cop to search his car. The blog Photography is Not a Crim​e (PINAC) has the profanity-laden video and transcript of Glans addressing driver Adam Roberts, who had a recently purchased rifle in his backseat. That gun let Glans to demand permission to search Roberts's car sans warrant. Roberts said no, and Glans got ticked off. PINAC also notes that in 1996, Glans paralyzed someone after he hit them with his squad car while responding to a 911 call. Glans, who has been suspended, has since said that he wouldn't have treated Roberts like he did if he knew he was being filmed, which is obviously not a great excuse.

-A chocolate Labrador named Moses was sho​t by a Woodville, Ohio K-9 officer on November 3. Officer Steve Gilkerson had pulled over a speeding car and was about to commence searching it (with permission) when Moses appeared. The car was parked in front of a shipping company where the dog's owner worked, and she often brought her pet with her. The couple in the speeding car said that the lab was not acting aggressive and that their two-year-old daughter was traumatized, naturally, by the sight of Moses being shot. The dog survived, but he'll have to have a metal rod put into his front leg. Gilkerson—who has had no training in how to deal with random dogs—has already been cleared by his superiors.

-Our Good Cop of the Week is a Tulsa police officer who​ rescued a man from an overturned and burning car on Friday night. Officer Chad Murtaugh grabbed 25-year-old Ali Milad out of the vehicle, which was almost completely engulfed in flames, after breaking a window and took him to the hospital so that the burns on his face and hands could be treated. "I am confident in saying that any Tulsa police officer that was in this situation would have done the exact same thing I did," Murtaugh said—but c'mon dude, you just literally saved a guy from a burning car! You can brag a little.

Follow Lucy Steigerwald on ​Twitter.

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