I read of Los Angeles cops disabling recording devices by removing
antennas from their cars when they enter black neighborhoods, I know
there are limitations to this technology.
in St. Louis, the public found out the police code for being recorded
with the video tape of the 2014 beat-down of black teenager Cortez
Bufford. When Bufford’s attorneys recently released the tape
you can hear Officer Kelli Swinton warning her co-conspirators to
“Hold up!...We’re red now…just wait.” “Red”
means there’s recordings going on--make nice and look legal. It
could be a police cam or a citizen’s camera. All charges were
later dropped against Bufford and he has filed a law suit against the
St. Louis PD for its brutality.
cities, like San Diego, have seen a significant reduction in
excessive police force. Comparative studies have shown the cops who
didn’t wear cams are more likely to issue citations or make
demands for police body cams is growing as urban communities
experience more blatant forms of police terrorism. The demands are
coming from a place of utter frustration and profound grief. And
while I understand the desperate need for anything that can aid
citizens in holding officers accountable along with the departments
that often cover their behinds, I suggest we slow down and look both
at what we know and what we don’t know.
first such police video that was widely publicized was the beat-down
of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers in 1991. Tased, stomped
unmercifully and hit numerous times with police batons, King suffered
nine skull fractures, a broken leg, a concussion, injuries to both
knees, a shattered eye socket and cheekbone and a paralyzed face. He
would never be the same mentally or physically, dying at the
premature age of 47 years old.
and brown communities thought the video would be vindication of our
long expressed experiences with police violence often hidden from the
the time the attorneys for the police officers involved in the
beating got finished interpreting the video, jurors were made to
believe that all King’s defensive moves to protect himself were
aggressive moves towards officers. It was a case of who do you
believe-us or your lying eyes? All of the white officers were
acquitted of criminal charges which resulted in South Central going
up in flames.
the last twenty-five years since that infamous video, there have been
thousands of police encounters videotaped and once the internet
emerged, they were uploaded on the World Wide Web. Many of these
videos show the actual murder of the citizen by police. Examples of
unarmed black men like Eric Gardner, Walter Scott, Kajieme Powell and
most recently Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott have unfortunately
become commonplace in our public consciousness.
have not proven to make such cases a slam-dunk because of the same
kind of police interpretation presented in the Rodney King case. Add
to that the almost indisputable claim of an officer feeling
“threatened” and a visual accounting of the incident as
evidence of criminal action literally evaporates like a Snapchat
no surprise that nearly 80 percent of police dashboard cameras of
Chicago PD and LAPD reported experiencing audio problems which police
officials blamed on “officer error” and “intentional
destruction.” If there’s no audio, police get to make up
their own script about an incident.
use of body cams brings with it a truckload of legitimate privacy
issues. What situations should be recorded? Which incidents will be
exempt from recordings? How long will footage be stored as well as
how and where? Who has access to the footage? What is the process for
complying with open records requests? And what about cops who fail to
turn their cams on or who sabotages the video tape.
Movement for Black Lives released its policy platform on a host of
issues this summer facing the African American Community. Regarding
body cams, the group adopted the guidelines set forth by the
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Conference urges
police departments to “commit to a set of well-defined purposes
for camera use, and need to specify clear operational policies for
recording, retention, and access.”
probably not going to happen without interference from the usual
suspects. Police associations are doing all they can to block the use
of body cams and block the public’s access to video and audio
appears that the use of body and dashboard cameras by police
departments is inevitable. A recent national survey of nearly every
large police department by the Major Cities Chiefs Association
indicates that nearly 95 percent plan to move forward with body cams
or have already instituted their use.
the murder of Mike Brown Ferguson PD rushed to buy cams. St. Louis
County Police is phasing cameras in as well. NYPD’s
court-ordered implementation of body cams is a result of its
unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policy. The Department of Justice
plans to buy 50,000 body cameras for departments with a $75 million
price tag over the next three years.
as citizens, cannot make the demand for cameras without staying
around for the necessary fight to implement fair and effective
policies on the use of the cameras and the subsequent recordings. If
we don’t, citizens should count on a very expensive program
that we pay for but only serves to shield police from the very
accountability that the public has been demanding.