The Newnan Times-Herald


Can you say 'ca-reepy?'

  • By Rebecca Leftwich
  • |
  • May. 09, 2018 - 4:53 AM

Do y'all remember the old VHS format camera back in the 1970's that you held on your shoulder like a 10-pound bag of potatoes?

My dad had one that he put to good use one Thanksgivings Day afternoon when a neighbor asked me to come over and show his 50 year old son, who just killed a deer, how to gut the dang thing.

That short film fell somewhere between "This Old House" meets "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Fast forward 40 years and the micro-cameras can now be strapped to the side of the head of many law enforcement officers. It's like a third eye poking around the corner of the officers head, capturing every spoken word in Technicolor. It's downright "ca-reepy".

I had a chance encounter a couple months ago with three bike patrol officers – who wore the required recording headgear – on the court square in Newnan. I identified myself as a retired Atlanta police officer and began what I thought was a conversation, you know, telling war stories and cutting-up with the guys.

It was 10 minutes into what I now realized was a "monolog" before realizing that none of the officers laughed, agreed or one-upped me in a round-robin exchange of stories normally experienced  when officers meet up.

Reason for their "taking the fifth"? Body cameras and their likelihood conversations could later be reduced to transcripts.

And then I see the picture in the NTH of officers during a well deserved law enforcement luncheon. Nearly all of them were still wearing their body cams to lunch. 

Is it just me or how about a little decorum and nix-the-cameras so we can talk together like friends without the fear of a conversation ending up in a YouTube video or an Internal Affairs complaint? I can hear their comments to me, you can turn the cameras off, you idiot.

Yeah, and you can just-as-easily flip them back on, Pollyanna. So how about leaving the audio equipment in the patrol cars for an hour so we can act like cops for a moment in time?

If our officers don't have enough to worry about, now the news of a number of surveillance firms racing forward to integrate facial-recognition technology  and other artificial intelligence into video.

According to Georgetown Law School research, more than 117 million American adults can be found in the voluminous facial-recognition databases currently used by local, state and federal law enforcement.

Police departments already have tag readers – technology that captures and compares vehicle license plates to wanted files – available on the streets today. Even the Department of Homeland Security scans the faces of international travelers at many of the country's biggest airports.

 So why not incorporating facial-recognition and compare it to wanted files for officers on the street?

Much like ethical considerations of the use of nuclear weapons and genetic cloning, facial-recognition technology shares in the unintended consequences category when science runs headlong into humanity.

For instance, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab said facial-recognition systems from IBM, Facebook and Microsoft performed consistently better identifying the gender of people with lighter skin, averaging 99 percent accuracy for lighter-skinned men and 70 percent accuracy for darker-skinned women.

 Do you maybe see...a racial discrimination problem? It's one thing to turn on your cell phone by mugging the camera and quite another to lawfully detain a person on a facial-recognition "hit" of sorts.

The discerning beat cop of yesteryear is being transformed into the all-business "Robocop" of the future. Officer Friendly is morphing into Officer "Ca-reepy" Eye.

The Precinct Press is authored by W.J. Butcher, a retired 26-year veteran of the Atlanta Police Department. Send comments, kudos, and criticism to: