Newsweek published an article with the following title:
Police Body Cameras Can Threaten Civil Rights of Black and Brown People, New Report Says
To Josh Saul, who wrote the Newsweek piece, I would like to address a few things before we dive into the article and the report it references.
One, a body-worn camera is an inanimate object. It is incapable of thinking, feeling or using logic or common sense to make decisions. Thus, it is incapable of threatening anything at all, much less, something as specific as a violating a person’s civil rights.
Two, if the cameras were capable of doing what we discussed in the paragraph above, they would threaten the civil rights of all people… or no people. If, as you assert in your title, they only do so for black and brown people, then they are also racist.
Since we have already established that cameras are incapable of creating such feelings, we know that to be inaccurate.
So, it stands to reason that if we could debunk the entire premise of your story so quickly, the rest of the article would follow suit. We could simply call it a day right here. But as 3 or 4 paragraphs would make for a boring read.
You were wrong in the conclusions in the title alone. So, I cannot wait to dig into the actual article.
According to the report, The Illusion of Accuracy: How Body-worn Camera Footage Can Distort Evidence, the number of U.S. police departments outfitting their officers with body cameras increases each year, but the cameras can pose a threat to civil rights if the departments fail to set rules that govern when officers review footage from their cameras.
It goes on to say that the ‘vast majority’ of the nation’s biggest police departments allow officers to watch footage from body cameras whenever they want, including before they write their incident reports or make statements.
Vanita Gupta, former head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division had this to say in the report’s introduction:
“Unrestricted footage review places civil rights at risk and undermines the goals of transparency and accountability. Because an officer’s memory of an event may be altered by watching body camera footage, doing so will likely alter what officers write in their reports.
That, in turn, can make it more difficult for investigators or courts to assess whether the officer’s actions were reasonable based on what he or she perceived at the time of the incident.”
Gupta then took to social media. She tweeted why the recommendations of the report matter.
“…Without carefully crafted policy safeguards in place, there is a real risk that body-worn cameras could be used in ways that threaten civil and constitutional rights and intensify the disproportionate surveillance of communities of color.”
First, body-worn cameras are not surveillance devices. While they could theoretically be used as such, they are far from adequate for that particular function.
Second, can someone please walk me through the logic (or lack thereof) that allows you to arrive at this conclusion?
In case after case, lawyers representing suspect’s or their families, consistently beg for the body-worn camera footage. What is the number one reason behind those requests?
See, it must be one or the other. Either the footage provides a clear portrait of the incident, or it violates civil rights. It cannot do both simultaneously. You cannot simply change which it is doing based on a whim or for the convenience of supporting a particular narrative.
That won’t stop you from trying, but it is not reality.
The report continues by saying that Body camera programs are in place at 62 of the 69 largest U.S. police departments. Most of those departments—55, or almost 80 percent—allow officers to view their footage whenever they want.
The writers of the report then advise police departments to institute a clean reporting policy, under which officers write an initial incident report before reviewing any footage. Only afterward would they watch the footage and write a second, supplementary report.
“We make the case that in the interests of consistency, fairness, transparency and accountability, clean reporting should be adopted as a standard practice for all police departments with body-worn camera programs,” writes Gupta.
Other experts disagree. Lance LoRusso is a lawyer who represents officers in both criminal and civil matters.
“They want to be as accurate as they can. This specter that every time an officer looks at the video they’re going to lie and adapt their statement just is infuriating because we want the officers to write the most accurate report they can,” LoRusso said.
By the way, LoRusso is also a former cop.
To Gupta’s argument that reviewing the footage skews what officers write in a report, the video and the reports must compliment one another. If they conflict, that will be brought into question during criminal proceedings. If they do not match, the officer’s integrity is brought into question.
But the report argues the exact opposite. It says that unrestricted footage review can ‘unduly inflate officer credibility’.
In the most basic evidentiary sense, police officers are simply witnesses to alleged criminal activity and to the resulting actions of anyone on the scene. Yet unrestricted footage review gives officers the opportunity to augment their initial incident reports with information that would not otherwise be available to them from their own memory.
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This makes officers’ reports artificially consistent with video footage and appear to be unnaturally comprehensive and credible, particularly compared to reports of other witnesses to events.
Police officers already enjoy a high degree of credibility in criminal cases, and artificial consistency between officer testimony and video evidence could cause factfinders to unjustifiably see an officer as even more credible than other witnesses overall, which could have distorting effects on an entire proceeding.
Unrestricted footage review makes officers’ reports artificially consistent with video footage — particularly when compared to reports of other witnesses.
The consequences of this undue credibility are stark. If officers are inclined to distort the truth, letting them watch footage of an incident before writing an initial report will give them the opportunity to misrepresent what happened more effectively.
These officers could tailor their reports to conform to what was captured on video and omit important information that the footage failed to capture.
But, if the same officers have to document their behavior without the ability to go back and watch the footage first, it makes it more difficult to get away with lies and other false narratives.
When unrestricted review is permitted, any discrepancies between the two records are less likely to be uncovered, let alone scrutinized — preempting and obfuscating what might be important lines of investigative inquiry.
If an officer’s account of an event and the associated body camera footage remain independent, discrepancies can be noted and evaluated by factfinders, leading to more accurate and thorough understanding of the incident.
Let that sink in.
And yes, the report does conclude that you will never remember the entire encounter on your own. But, for the love of God, DO NOT review the tape to refresh your memory.
That makes it easier for defense attorneys to ask you under oath, why you would leave something so critical out of your report.
We live in society now, where a growing contingency of people are looking for ways to catch cops in a trap.
It is a “Catch 22”.
They truly want you to be in a no-win situation.