According to the Times, the police department of Rialto, California randomly required half of its patrol officers to wear body cameras each week of last year. During that period, officers used force 25 times, as opposed to 61 times during the previous year. Officers wearing cameras accounted for only eight uses of force. Knowing someone is (or will be) watching appears to make interactions between police and civilians less violent. I don’t want to draw any unfounded conclusions, but it’s possible that public scrutiny encourages law enforcement to adhere to its own rules. In unrelated news, a secret federal ruling from 2011 rebuked the NSA for repeatedly misrepresenting its domestic surveillance operations to the FISA courts.
Back before we divided off into people who think it was founded on the Bible and people who think it was a tax evasion scheme, I was taught that the United States of America was founded on rational debate. Citizens in a democracy disagree about stuff, and the only way to figure out who’s right is to put our ideas in a metaphorical marketplace and start convincing one another. Of course, the democratic process doesn’t actually determine who’s right; it just identifies the most appealing argument. This wrinkle could potentially give an unfair advantage to those unscrupulous arguers willing to employ sophistry and fallacies, but fortunately our populace is too well-educated for that to work. I’m fucking with you—our populace is home watching Man Versus Food and coming up with race-based theories of identity. The dirtiest argumentative tactics you can imagine are on proud display in contemporary discourse, so that any particular argument is now subsumed in the larger argument between Deductive Reasoning and Whatever. It’s us against them, deductive reasoners, and they’re winning. This week’s link roundup is about winning the argument, even at the expense of obvious considerations of true and false. That’s the beauty of a democracy: if you can put some destructive idea into other people’s heads—optimally one that puts the very people who believe it at a disadvantage—you become more powerful yourself. It’s like the way Renfield keeps eating spiders in Dracula. Won’t you choke down a couple of tarantulas with me?
A few weeks ago, we talked about various cities’ attempts to address revenue problems by selling private companies the right to operate and enforce parking meters. Around the same time, a St. Louis circuit judge ruled against American Traffic Solutions in a class-action suit, finding that the city had overstepped its administrative boundaries by selling ATS the authority to issue over $30 million in traffic tickets. Since 2007, ATS has operated red-light and speeding cameras throughout St. Louis, photographing license plates and sending the tickets to car owners using an automated system. Plaintiffs argued that this system violated due process, a claim that the judge largely rejected, although he acknowledged the possibility that ATS failed to notify ticketed drivers of their right to hearings. Ultimately, his problem with ATS lay with the state of Missouri’s complex and inordinately boring license points system—the ATS computers were not accurately reporting violations to the state Department of Revenue—but I’m going to take a flyer here and say that the Combat! blog audience is more likely to get charged with a crime than to administer the city of St. Louis. So we’re going to talk about that due process thing.
Documentary filmmaker and all-around dope human being Errol Morris has a semi-regular column for the New York Times, in which he discusses “the influences and use of photography.” One of the uses of photography is to provide subject matter for essays I don’t read, for possibly the same reason that I am not interested in sculptures about songs. Yesterday, though, he got me. Morris describes a man who came under the impression that rubbing lemon juice on your face makes it invisible to cameras. Armed with this knowledge, he robbed two banks in Pittsburgh, his eyes and skin burning, only to be identified from security footage and apprehended. The man, Morris opines, was the victim of a kind of anosognosia—in this case the failure, caused by stupidity, to recognize one’s own stupidity.