Is misconduct so deeply ingrained in police culture that videotaping will not soon reverse the situation?
Virginia criminal defense attorney Jon Katz insists on the end of police misconduct, and urges protection for civilian videotaping of police and outfitting of police with video cameras.
Police misconduct did not originate with videotaping. Videotaping shines a light on police misconduct, reducing the places and times where police may use the shadows for violating their oaths of office.
Why have the pile of egregious videotaped (and non-videotaped) police misconduct — including deputy Ben Fields’s flipping a high school student this week from her desk — from the last two years alone not led to quicker reversal of police misconduct? The reasons can include:
– Police have awesome power. Power conferred will lead to power abused.
– Having police misconduct so ingrained in so many police from generation to generation, that old habits will die hard, and the right systemic changes will not come about right away, particularly when the systemic changes are expensive.
– We live in a police state where too many police do not recognize, or refuse to accept, their role as serving the public rather than the other way around.
– Excessive police misconduct will continue until we substantially shrink the criminal justice system, for instance through legalizing marijuana, prostitution and gambling; heavily decriminalizing all remaining drugs; eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing and the death penalty; and eliminating blood alcohol level per se guilty rules in drinking and driving cases. With a smaller police force, we will be able to more selectively hire police, better train and monitor them, and better reward and pay them for following their oaths.
Videotaping will help reverse the tide of police abuse, no matter how slowly. Consider;
– Knowing that their actions are or might be videotaped, more police will more often adjust their behavior accordingly.
– Police management, prosecutors, and other government officials will not be able to ignore videotaped evidence of police misconduct and prevarication.
– Publicized videos of police misconduct will wake up plenty of people, even those who previously thought that police misconduct is a rarity.
Where should we go from here? The governing law must be adjusted to provide robust rights with teeth for civilians to videotape, audiotape and photograph police in public. Police need more quickly to be outfitted with and required to use body cameras and cruiser cameras to record their interactions with the public. The public must be given robust access to police-recorded videos, with consideration for the privacy rights of the civilians depicted therein and option to waive their privacy rights.
Video technology is more affordable and easy to use than ever, and the funding must be devoted now to outfitting police with such equipment.
Sadly, I am still witnessing a large percentage of my criminal cases having an absence of videotaped and audiotaped interactions between the police and my clients. When the interactions are videotaped, sometimes the sound is muffled, sometimes commercial radio music interferes with the sound when the officer omits turning off the radio, and sometimes the officer does not bring my client in view of the dashboard camera while interacting with my client.
Police: Your obligations are always akin to getting shoot-don’t shoot right. If you do not accept your oath of office, turn in your badge today.
Civilians :Police are a necessary evil that is antithetical to a free and democratic society. We need to work together to praise good policing, speak out peacefully but effectively over police misconduct, and effectuate systemic changes to end police misconduct.