Will cameras stop this kind of police treatment?

Will cameras stop this kind of police treatment?

The state of modern American law enforcement went on garish display in Ferguson, Missouri, as police from multiple municipalities donned military gear and descended upon the town like an occupying army.

While the focus was on the equipment they carried and the racial issues, there’s a more crucial matter Ferguson raised: who is reining in the errant behavior of police officers?

Officers like Lt. Ray Albers, who aimed his assault rifle at peaceful protestors and journalists while barking such orders as “I will f***ing kill you, get back!”—while he knew his words and behavior were being recorded and livestreamed for the world to see.

And then there’s Officer Dan Page, who rose to national prominence after shoving a CNN journalist on camera. He got suspended from duty not for that, but for an earlier videotaped speech he gave at an Oath Keepers meeting:

“I personally believe in Jesus Christ as my lord and savior, but I’m also a killer. I’ve killed a lot. And if I need to, I’ll kill a whole bunch more. If you don’t want to get killed, don’t show up in front of me. I have no problems with it. God did not raise me to be a coward… I’m into diversity — I kill everybody. I don’t care.”

These are some of the individuals entrusted with police authority and military gear. Knowing Page’s and Albers’ names and faces made them unusual among their colleagues occupying Ferguson. But which officers fired tear gas and bean bags at TV news teams early in the protests? Who operated the sound cannons to disorient protestors before commanding them to disperse?

The authorities haven’t said.


Those specifics aside, Ferguson has fast-tracked an important debate: whether all officers should be wearing body-mounted cameras. There’s already a petition at the White House for a “Mike Brown Law” to require all officers to wear cameras, so named for the young man whose shooting by police touched off Ferguson.

The arguments in favor have united what are ordinarily opposing sides in the debate over police powers. Both the American Civil Liberties Union and law enforcement supporters have said they’re a good idea, albeit for different reasons. Broadly speaking, the idea is to protect citizens from bad policing and honest cops from false accusations.

Already, though, the ubiquity of cameras has shown a glimpse of what a fully recorded future of police-public interactions might hold. The question is whether that will lead to better relations.

When No One’s Watching

Footage out of Ferguson showed how some American police treat innocent people when they know the world is watching. If they behave this badly in front of witnesses, what do some officers do when no one is watching?

One apt example can be found in Officer Daniel Holtzclaw, arrested in August on suspicion of raping at least eight women while on duty, threatening to arrest them if they didn’t comply with his demands. Holtzclaw’s victims knew he had the status quo on his side: in the absence of any evidence, the accusation of a lone cop would suffice to arrest an innocent woman.

And if there’s no evidence, some officers are willing to plant it to make a case. In 2011, a former narcotics detective for the NYPD testified that he and his colleagues routinely planted drugs on people to make their arrest quotas.

The news surprised nobody who pays attention: former U.S. attorney and New York criminal judge Irving Younger warned in 1967 that the criminal justice system gave cops plenty of “unique opportunities (and unique temptations) to commit perjury. Yet the long-established practice of “testilying” resurfaces as a problem decade after decade, and remains rampant today with no solution in sight.

50 Years of Testilying

So half a century ago, the existence of lying police officers was already an open secret in the American legal system. And worse still: even cops proven to be liars don’t necessarily face any consequences.

Take the case of six Milwaukee officers who were found to have impeded an investigation by prosecutors into a police practice of carrying out illegal strip and body cavity searches on drug suspects:

“One officer told authorities she had not witnessed an improper search even though a video showed she was standing just a few feet away. Five others were suspected of violating a court order …. The six officers may have broken the law or violated department rules, the video and documents show, but none of them faced criminal charges or discipline by the Police Department,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote.

Of course they didn’t. There are six cops in Milwaukee today who still wield legal authority over fellow citizens, despite a record of them helping other officers commit crimes against people and/or hampering any efforts to stop it.

All the Way to the Supreme Court

The notion that impunity for law enforcement has its place in law enforcement has even reached the Supreme Court. In 2009, when current Justice Elena Kagan was Solicitor General defending the government, she argued in Pottawatomie v. McGhee that prosecutors who fabricate evidence to convict innocent people should retain their absolute immunity from lawsuits.

Failing to preserve immunity, she argued, would force prosecutors to divert their energy toward defending themselves instead of enforcing the law. The wrongfully convicted have other avenues of restitution, she wrote:

In the exceedingly rare case in which provable wrongdoing by a prosecutor is left uncompensated, “it has been thought in the end better to leave unredressed the wrongs done by dishonest officers than to subject those who try to do their duty to the constant dread of retaliation.”

In the Pottawatomie case, the crime in question was murder. So Kagan’s argument was, in essence, that even if innocents go to prison while killers walk free, dishonest prosecutors still shouldn’t be held accountable for framing someone who isn’t guilty.

Once upon a time the legal fiction of inherent police trustworthiness might’ve been a necessary evil, but ubiquitous and inexpensive recording technology has made that excuse vanish. Why not require police testimony be backed by audiovisual records?

The Ever-present Eye

Even before Ferguson, various municipalities throughout the U.S. started requiring officers to wear body cameras at all times while on duty (in addition to the dashboard cams already found in many, though not all, police cars). A real-time experiment by the Rialto, California, police department, in which officers were made to record their on-duty actions, had stunning results. The use of force by police officers declined over 50% and complaints against them by the public fell by nearly 90 percent.

Of course, that still leaves the problem of police deliberately turning off their cameras before engaging in questionable activity. For example, the Daytona, Florida, police department fired two officers who arrested a female drug suspect. One officer switched his camera off in the middle of the apprehension. The woman ended up hospitalized with her teeth knocked out. The telling video was missing.

Yet even the issue of police turning off body cameras or “losing” dashcam footage wouldn’t be such a problem if the legal system would abandon the stubborn belief in proven fictions: that police are always telling the truth when they’re on the witness stand, and that their word is better than that of a suspect.

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6 years ago

Cop cameras are simply step one. The reason these psychos are still presenting a danger to the public is that they are not being arrested for the obvious reasons. They’re not being arrested because nobody in the corrupt judicial system has the stomach to prosecute. They’re puppets. We’ve suffered through decades of legacy media bs, telling us that cops are not capable of committing crimes. Now we know through video that bad cops can commit exceptional crimes. The prosecutors prefer smaller fry. Exercise your vote by calling your local political Pinocchio daily. Ask them if they think the legal system is doing it’s job. In western law, a criminal has to have “criminal mindedness”, mens rea. In Canada, if anybody can mention a police officer that has been convicted of an unlawful shooting offence, I’m all ears. They are usually considered to have had no criminal intent. Average non criminal Canadians are criminally convicted in spite of no criminal intent daily. I’m not saying go off on cops, I’m saying go off on the people that refuse to properly deal with the bad cops. Our legal system is steadily congealing into a system similar to ones I’ve read of in the old CCCP, or the People’s Republic of China.

6 years ago

I wonder if elements of this operation were not aimed at discrediting Oath Keepers. Oath Keepers aims to prevent police from violating the constitution and violating people’s civil liberties. As an organization, they are a small threat to the deep state.

Dan Page’s behavior was exactly the opposite of the sort of behavior you would have expected from a supporter of Oath Keepers. In addition, pushing a CNN anchor on camera is really beyond the bounds of normal stupid police behavior, so stupid in fact that it makes more sense as a deliberate deep state false flag attempt to discredit the Oath Keepers.

6 years ago

It all wreaks of Operation Gladio and the Strategy of Tension to me in my opinion. Sad state of events but if you study the history of the training we gave to South American rebels at the School of the Americas you will more likely be able to see the possible agenda present here in this society now. Keep up the good work Russ and Friends!

6 years ago

As a First Responder of over 25 years, I am all for the on duty recording of all interactions with the public. While the overwhelming majority of people I have worked with are honest and upstanding, I have witnessed several incidents where there have been abuses. Good officers do not speak up, because they will be pilloried mostly, and they have families. They simply act to mitigate the situation, in most cases. I have done so myself. But, bad ones, will leave of their own accord, or be exposed for abuses, if every single one is cammed and recorded. There was a definite resistance to this practice when it was first introduced. But, over the years, I have seen most good men and women embrace it, for the same reasons they at first resisted….it makes their jobs and conduct safer. Change of the status quo is always a bit scary though, because the devils you know seems less dangerous than the ones you don’t.

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