Debate Forum: 12/9

Debate Center: The eyes have it

By Sarah Sidlow

The country may still be recovering from the upheaval which came as a result of the recent Grand Jury decision not to indict Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of a teenager.

The event has caused citizens, law enforcement officials and even the federal government to rethink the way the police and the public work together. Despite corroborating witness grand jury testimony, some discrepancies between Officer Wilson’s testimony and other eye witness accounts during the incident mean many will never be satisfied with the verdict, or the story told by history. Many, including the Obama administration, believe this situation could have been lessened, if not completely avoided, had Officer Wilson been wearing a body camera at the time of the shooting.

This is why, in a recent announcement, President Obama has promised to set aside $263 million to standardize law enforcement training and fund the purchase of 50,000 cameras that police officers can wear on their persons.

“As the nation has observed, trust between law enforcement agencies and the people they protect and serve is essential to the stability of our communities, the integrity of our criminal justice system, and the safe and effective delivery of policing services,” reads a statement from the Office of the Press Secretary.

Obama’s plan appropriates $75 million of the total $263 million budget to fund the purchase of body-worn cameras for police officers. Additionally, the new Body Worn Camera Partnership Program would provide a 50 percent match to states who buy their own body-worn cameras.

Perhaps no one is more in favor of this move than the Brown family, who believe that had Officer Wilson been wearing a camera at the time of the shooting, perhaps these events would have unfolded to tell a different story.

“Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera,” they said in a public statement.

Other proponents of police officers wearing body cameras cite the success of the practice in places like Rialto, California, where police began wearing body cameras in 2012.

In the first year alone, citizen complaints against officers fell 88 percent, and use of force by officers declined 60 percent.

This example may indicate the body cameras do more than simply document the events as they unfold; they may in fact change the behavior of everyone involved. This is the basic psychological idea of reminding people they are accountable for their actions – similar to the placement of mirrors in convenience stores as a way to deter theft.

But opponents to police wearing body cameras claim that everything, even video footage, is open to interpretation. They claim a judge, jury and public will see what they want to see when presented with video footage of an incident. They also note that even body-worn cameras have blind spots and moments of failure. Moreover, there are questions about who gets access to video footage, as well – an issue all too familiar to the Dayton community, which saw the extreme unrest of a public anxious to see the surveillance footage from the security cameras in the Wal-Mart where John Crawford III was fatally shot in August. Giving the police department thousands of hours of video, which must be blurred and muted to protect people’s privacy, could prove to be a major logistical burden for police departments.

Presently, here in Dayton, police do not wear body cameras. In fact, at least one area police department does not use cameras mounted on police cruiser dashboards.

It may be some time before every police officer in Dayton is required to wear a body camera, or utilize a dash-mounted camera to their car. But questions remain about whether the police, and the public, would benefit from police officers wearing body cameras.

Reach DCP Editor Sarah Sidlow at Editor@DaytonCityPaper.com

 

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

Is it time for all police cars to be equipped with dashboard cameras and all officers to be outfitted with body cameras?

Debate Left: Cameras are letting us see our blindness

By Marianne Stanley

At first glance, this topic hardly seems to be debatable. After all, cameras would seemingly eliminate he-said-she-said discussions, allowing justice to flow more smoothly. State law and local policy can provide for a penalty severe enough to discourage failure of police to turn on the cameras during citizen encounters.

Yet, having said that, we have by now all seen how a justice system that is not really just can ignore facts in order to make a finding more in keeping with its beliefs. While it is sad that two grand juries, one in New York and one in Missouri, both chose not to indict the cops who blatantly killed two black men, it is good in that the bare, ugly face of racism can at last be clearly seen in America. It bears saying that whites made up the majority needed for a verdict on both grand juries. Coincidence? 

We are watching America burn while we fiddle – with the TV remote. The open season on unarmed citizens, mostly minorities and even women and children, has begun in earnest. Those who have been paying attention could see this coming as one civil right after another was stripped away. We saw it with the Occupy Wall Street movement where peaceful protesters exercising their constitutional right to “peaceably assemble” were kicked, sprayed, beaten, handcuffed and arrested. Americans who carry signs or gather in protest against corporations that are strangling them, from BP to Monsanto, are also routinely arrested as though our First Amendment doesn’t exist. 

Ever since 9/11 and the rush to enact the absurd USA PATRIOT Act (it really is all in caps and stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”) without even reading it, we have all been under assault by our own government, which is using both its own agencies and complicit corporate contractors to suck up our former Fourth Amendment right to privacy. 

Has anyone even thought to do some checking to see just how many of those on the police forces in this country were once soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan? Hundreds of thousands of vets have returned from those hell zones with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and should never be given any position of power, particularly if it supplies them with deadly weapons. We have seen the overt violence of the police increase exponentially within the past ten years, coinciding with masses of troops coming home wounded, in more ways than one, from combat zones. 

Now here’s the predicament. The president is seeking $75 million to get body cameras on 50,000 police officers over three years. Problem is, there are 750,000 on duty in this country. Should they all be outfitted with body cameras and cruiser cameras? Absolutely. The tide of public outrage from those viewing these horrid assaults will ultimately and rightfully create demand for police accountability at last. 

A little history here: the U.S. has become an out-of-control “nation of incarceration,” which unconscionably throws people in jail for minimal offenses, making us the world’s leading jailer and destroyer of families. Starting with Republican President Nixon’s “War on Drugs,” a stupid concept from the get-go, Reagan followed up with his own “Tough on Crime” rhetoric, expanding the national insult to everyday folks who do what almost 100 percent of people do – relieve their stress any way they can, be it with cigarettes, alcohol, prescription painkillers or street drugs. 

Here’s the surprising little-known fact. It was none other than the Democrat President Bill Clinton who vastly expanded the prison system and the number of cops on the street as he strove to form a coalition of Democrats that would forge a new party beyond the New Deal by courting Big Business and Right Wing groups to increase its numbers and influence. He also expanded the death penalty and upped the Border Patrol presence. Being “tough on crime” led to a whole raft of insane policies that catapulted the U.S. into being the most repressive country on Earth, with about two and a half million of its citizens in prison for non-violent, mostly drug-related, offenses that pose absolutely no threat to society. He was also the president who pushed and signed into law Welfare “reform,” squeezing those at the bottom even harder, as though they, rather than those who prey on them, are the criminals.

Considering the ever-increasing use of brute force for even minor infractions, it doesn’t take a genius to see the system itself has become mortally flawed, with our basic civil rights eliminated in favor of the “Law and Order,” “Tough on Crime” slogans trotted out to a passive public and a complicit corporate media. 

As we are finally seeing, racism is still at the heart of much that is terribly wrong with our country. Don’t let the media or anyone tell you that the real criminals are those on the streets, crying out in protest. The real criminals were wearing police uniforms. Law enforcement is losing its legitimacy as lawlessness grows among its ranks. All people of good conscience should be standing shoulder to shoulder with the protesters. As a “Christian Nation,” “sanctity of life” is supposed to be our core value. Everyone matters. Only when we remember we are all interconnected souls can our country hope to find its way forward to a justice system that is wonderfully blind – and finally just.

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Right: More common sense, less surveillance

By Rob Scott

The several events unfolding regarding police officers using force have spawned a discussion over proper police enforcement. The issue has turned into a national discussion on the process police use when deciphering whether to use force and evidence to support their justifications.

As with anything, people believe technology can solve many of the world’s problems. To resolve and protect the police and citizens they serve, there is a push to encourage all police officers to wear body cameras. President Obama, many in Congress and several state legislatures are pursuing to set aside funds to begin police body camera programs.

Many claim police body cameras would keep the police in check and force citizens to comply since they would know everything was being recorded.

However, in most cases, police interactions are already being recorded by their police cruiser cameras. The video in those cases is often up for interpretation by prosecutors, defense attorneys, juries and judges.

Some researchers say claims about the effects of police-worn body cameras are hard to substantiate. The technology is expensive, questions over privacy remain unanswered and there is no evidence that the cameras foster trust between members of a community and police.

“Although advocates and critics have made numerous claims regarding body-worn cameras, there have been few balanced discussions of the benefits and problems associated with the technology and even fewer discussions of the empirical evidence supporting or refuting those claims,” wrote Michael D. White, an Arizona State University criminology professor, for a report for the U.S. Department of Justice.

“The overwhelming theme from this review is the lack of available research on the technology.”

One of the most-cited studies on the subject comes from the Rialto, California police department, where researchers found a 59 percent reduction in use of force by officers and an 88 percent reduction in complaints against officers when body cameras were in use. In his report, White called these reductions a “civilizing” effect. 

A huge issue will be privacy concerns with how effective the cameras prove to be. Individual departments will likely have countless policies on when to preserve video and when to destroy or redact it.

How departments respond to officers’ discretion to record is another likely factor. Unlike black box recorders, officers must choose when to record using body cameras. And unlike dash cameras, which have the limited view from the windshield of a patrol car, lapel-mounted cameras could go much further into daily policing.

Victims of violent crimes could be captured immediately following trauma. Offenders in less serious crimes could have a permanent and embarrassing record of indiscretions. Minors will be filmed.

Some observers point to the difficulty of holding officers accountable even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

No one was charged after two Beavercreek officers shot a man holding a toy gun in Wal-Mart, an encounter caught on video. When a 12-year-old Cleveland boy was shot by police after drawing a handgun toy, the release of video of the incident did not stop officers from returning to work this week. A grand jury in Texas declined to indict two officers who were caught on camera beating a woman.

Nor are body camera initiatives cheap. The devices range in cost from $200 to $1,000. That does not include the price of upgrades to computers and servers that police departments would probably have to undertake in order to process the enormous quantities of data the cameras produce, or the cost of redacting the videos for potential public disclosure or litigation, or the cost of storing the data. President Obama’s proposed funding plan also splits the cost of buying cameras with departments, meaning the federal government would not fund the cameras outright.

The cost of the police body cameras will be borne by the local communities. It is possible that cities, after recent events and to prevent costly civil litigation against them, will make the investment. Again, having the body cameras very well may be a double-edged sword. 

From drones to police cruiser video, government already has ample abilities for surveillance. Adding another one very well could be overkill. Many continue to press against government surveillance, and the police body cameras would be exactly that.

Nothing will replace good common sense. Police officers serve a very difficult and much-needed role in society. Law enforcement has been in existence since the birth of the U.S., without the use of body cameras. When a police officer asks you to stop, you stop. Or you do not violate the law or put yourself in that precarious position. In our society, there needs to be some level of respect for law and order – and not the infamous television shows.

If communities want their law enforcement to use the body cameras, then that is their decision. However, the decision should be a local one, not necessarily one federally dictated.

Body cameras should be a choice, not a requirement, for law enforcement. Their use may open many other unforeseen issues.

Rob Scott is a general practice attorney at Oldham & Deitering, LLC. Scott is a Kettering City Councilman, founder of the Dayton Tea Party, member of the Dayton Masonic Lodge and Kettering Rotary. He can be contacted at rob@oldhamdeitering.com or gemcitylaw.com.

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Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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