Crowd-sourced video of Eric Garner's death at the hands of New York City cops abounds. While it clearly shows police using a chokehold specifically banned by the NYPD, it wasn't enough to get a grand jury to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo. So we won't have the benefit of a trial in which the police might have presented exculpatory or mitigating evidence.
In cases such as this one, it's easy to understand why cops want to shut down people photographing and videotaping them on the job. But the fact of the matter is that dash cams and body cams are generally the police's best friends. From a new column I have at Time:
Police should actually be the most supportive of increasing the amount of footage, especially footage taken by cameras they're wearing. A year-long study of the Rialto, Calif., police department found that using "officer-worn cameras" reduced use-of-force incidents by 59% and reduced complaints against the cops by 87.5%. Between the Brown and Garner deaths—and cases such as the one in Cleveland where police shot and killed 12 year old Tamir Rice—law enforcement needs to work hard to regain the trust and confidence of the American public. Assuming they are acting in good faith and in accordance with proper policies, literally being able to show things from their point of view may be one of the best ways they can reassure us all.
This isn't a utopian solution but it is a pragmatic one that will make things better. And between the Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice cases, police everywhere should be looking for ways to improve their image with taxpayers everywhere.
Such technologically enabled transparency won't end all disputes between citizens and law enforcement but it will go a long way to providing clarity in ambiguous cases and, as important, minimizing bad actions by police and suspects alike.
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