Store owner installs surveillance cameras to spy on police

A Miami convenience store owner is fed up with his employees and customers being allegedly harassed by police. So he installs surveillance video to get evidence against the local cops.

Chris Matyszczyk
3 min read
A scene from one of the store's surveillance videos. Miami Herald screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Surveillance is for our own good.

By having everything that we are doing monitored, we can be sure that we (who have nothing to hide) will be safe.

At least, that's the logic many authorities offer us, as they spy, pry, and vilify anyone who might feel suspicious.

What happens, though, when you suspect the authorities of behaving suspiciously? Is it all right to spy on them?

Miami Gardens, Fla., convenience store owner Alex Saleh decided he'd try. He'd become vexed at what he saw as police harassment of his employees and even his customers.

So he installed surveillance cameras, with the specific intention of watching the detectives.

He'd become frustrated, you see, about the possibly not coincidental number of times that his employee, Earl Sampson, had been stopped and questioned by police officers -- 258 times over a four-year period does seem a little like overkill. These included 100 searches and 56 jailings. As for convictions, well, they were only for marijuana possession.

Saleh told the Miami Herald it seemed odd that Sampson had been arrested 62 times for trespassing, when the vast majority of offenses were outside the very same Quickstop.

That would be the Quickstop where Sampson worked.

In all, Saleh installed 15 surveillance cameras. Some might find a certain poetry in the fact that he felt the need for them, when he says his store has never been robbed.

The videos make for numbing viewing. In one, a store employee takes out the trash, only to be arrested for trespassing. Others appear to show searches without warrants and police stopping customers without any obvious reason.

Miami Gardens is neither an easy, nor a safe place. But the police's reluctance to so far comment on these videos and the Herald's reporting suggest that some questions might need to be answered.

Clearly, there is a history between Saleh and the police. He filed an internal affairs report against some officers. He claims they retaliated by being more aggressive.

But he's owned the store for 17 years. The fact that he has to install cameras in an attempt to prove what he feels is racial profiling, excessive aggression, and intimidation might be a portent of what is to come, as technology becomes ever more involved in everyday life.

If police officers are to be outfitted with cameras, will citizens feel the need to have Google Glass or its equivalent, just to ensure they have their own filmic version of an encounter with authorities?

Some police officers have aggressively shown how uncomfortable they are with ordinary citizens filming them in the line of duty.

In one case this year, police in Bakersfield, Calif., were accused of erasing cell phone video of an incident in which a man died.

In another incident in San Diego, an officer being filmed making an arrest declared that the Samsung Galaxy in question was a weapon.

Even if we're all filming each other, there will still be questions surrounding editing and other forms of manipulation.

In the search for justice, there's always that nagging question: Whose?

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