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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cops Don't Like It When the Camera Turns On Them

Recent video footage of an out of control Baltimore cop wrestling a 14 year-old skateboarder to the ground has added fire to a growing debate about police misconduct. Then to add even more fuel to the fire, another man has come forward with an equally outrageous video of the same cop acting in an unreasonable manner.
Apparently police departments accross the country don't like it when the camera is turned on them....


A bill currently proposed in the Utah Legislature would prevent the public from finding out about police misconduct. The proponents of this bill believe that the cops should be able to handle police misconduct investigations internally, outside the watchful eye of the public. In essence, this bill would leave policing the police to themselves. It's this kind of legislation that further deteriorates our Constitution and takes us one step closer to a big brother-like police state. Ever since the Bush administration began the "war on terror", our civil rights and our Constitution have been systematicly eroded by lawmakers who buy into every wacky idea that purports to strengthen law enforcement. Supporters of this bill claim that police misconduct needs to be kept from the public in order to "preserve the integrity of the police". They also claim that public police misconduct scandals weaken the credibility of police testimony in court. A reasonable person would come to the conclusion that the police need to clean up their own act and get rid of the bad apples, not simply move the problem out of the public arena. They obviously have no interest in cleaning up their act. So, instead they want to hide it to preserve the status quo.

In this day and age, the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words couldn't be more true. I would bet the supporters of this bill feel that the folks with the video cameras were to blame for the Rodney King incident and the riots that ensued. While it's true that video can be taken out of context and used to present only one side of complicated confrontations with the police (as it is alleged by police in the recently publicized case of an Ohio woman), more often than not, a video can be a useful tool in determining whether or not police or citizens act in a responsible, law-abiding manner. The old notion that police always act as we all would expect is simply a fairy tale. Cops are people too. They are prone to poor judgement just as much as the rest of us. When they do they should be held accountable. This being said, there is no reason that we should believe every thing a police officer offers as testimony in court proceedings as the absolute truth.

There is a counter movement currently under way in Utah. A defense attorney has proposed that a bill be introduced that would require all police interrogations to be video taped. The intent is to protect people from police coercion while being interrogated. Too often we have seen people who claim they confeesed to a crime they didn't commit simply because the police lied to them or used exaustive interrogation techniques designed to break a persons will. The folks that are against this bill say it would be too costly for small rural police departments to comply. They claim that the cost of video equipment installation would take money out of already strained budget. One police official claimed that "If he were forced to spend $20,000 on video taping equipment, he would have to eliminate his D.A.R.E. program". It's this kind of rhetoric that should make everyone suspect of the real reasons that cops don't want cameras in police stations. As far as I can tell, a PC with a webcam and a dvd burner would probably suffice. That's hardly a $20,000 investment. I also don't recall these people arguing that onboard dash cams were prohibitively expensive when it was put to them that it would protect the police and serve as a valuable prosecution tool.

I would recommend that everyone follow this argument closely, as it could have a chilling effect on our civil rights that are more frequently coming under attack. The concept of less government transparency should be a major concern to us all. The notion that broader police powers and less accountability somehow protect our way of life is completely against the democratic fundamentals our constitution is founded upon.

New Bill To Allow Police Misconduct Be Hidden From Public
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