In today's society, cameras are all around us whether it is a traffic camera, a security camera in a store, or even a passer-by's cell phone. Cameras are so portable and discreet that some places such as locker rooms will not allow cell phones to keep people from taking pictures. While most of the time cameras are simply part of the modern landscape, they can be useful in observing and preserving evidence of misconduct. For example, as soon as cameras were made smaller and more portable, police departments began to have them installed in police cars in order to record vital evidence during traffic stops. While the cameras were helpful in building cases against the suspects, incidents of police forgetting about the camera and being caught engaging in police misconduct followed which exposed varying degrees of police corruption.
After a few years of having the cameras in their police cars, officers began to wise up. They either stopped breaking the rules, or they just remembered to switch off the camera before they did something that would get them in trouble. With technology making cameras even more effective and portable, officers that engage in police misconduct have a lot more to worry about than simply turning off their camera. If you were to ask anyone on the street who Rodney King was, a substantial majority, if not everyone, would at least be able to tell you why he's famous. As most people know, the Rodney King incident was quite possibly the biggest embarrassment in the history of not only the LAPD, but also for departments all over the U.S. After one man with a camera caught two (white) LA police officers beating a (black) man named Rodney King, both LA and the nation at large erupted in a racially charged fury. For the first time, an irrefutable example of police brutality was splashed all over the American media which gave the LAPD a serious black eye.
While the grainy footage seen above was a major blow to police agencies across the U.S. due to the large public outcry against police brutality, it was only the beginning for the camera and police misconduct. With the increase in the number of smart phones and cell phones that have even a basic form of picture and video recording devices coupled with the accessibility of the internet, every moment could potentially be plastered all over the world wide web for all to see. This trend can be seen in many different scenarios, whether it be a schoolyard fight, a teacher/bus driver freak out, someone committing a crime, or even people being tased by police officers can easily be found on YouTube. As I said, it may be a good thing that people are being held accountable for their actions, but the problem is that sometimes the video does not tell the whole story.
The problem with taking videos and posting them on YouTube is that it turns into a competition of who can get the most hits for their video making it a popularity contest instead of being about exposing misconduct. For example, someone might instigate a problem in order to have it turn into a YouTube hit or edit the video to remove any mitigating factors to suit their needs in proving a point. This causes law enforcement personnel to have to sacrifice some amount of attention that they should be applying to their jobs in order to make sure that what they do cannot be construed as something offensive to the general public who have no understanding of the dangers that police face on a day to day basis. When public opinion interferes with the crime solving duties of officers, performance suffers and police have a greater chance of being injured by a possibly violent suspect.
To make myself clear, I am in no way condoning the actions of cavalier police officers who take their authority over the line. In fact, there is a story on the BBC where a retired officer went undercover to reveal several cases of police misconduct. During the investigation, two officers were secretly filmed watching a porn video late at night on duty while others were observed playing "hide-and-seek" in their police cars. When confronted with the results of the investigation, the Chief Constable for the Leicestershire Police Department in England formally apologized, assuring the public that there will be an attempt to bring disciplinary action against the offending officers. In this instance, cameras were a good thing. The question that arises though is how far should this video recording go? The main thing is to just be careful about how you act and to not do anything stupid, but in the heat of the moment when a police officer truly believes his life is in danger, to him it is self defense where as the public might see it as another cop being a jerk and abusing his power. At what point will police be so tied up by making sure that they look like they are doing their jobs properly that it begins to interfere with actually doing their jobs properly? Only time will tell and there is no end in sight for this bitter-sweet tool we call YouTube.
As a final piece of the puzzle, I found this video that shows both examples of blatant police misconduct as well as some that could be justifiable. The problem with these videos is that while some I could genuinely see as being police brutality, some cut out the parts where the suspects were fighting the cops or being hostile towards them. It's a little long, but there are a lot of examples, it's just a shame that public opinion has disintegrated to this point. I feel like many of these people are openly hostile to the police and then they are upset when the officer does something about it. What do you think?
Picture found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:R_King_beating.png
BBC story found at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/leicestershire/4948554.stm
Video found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEoJQpkUNRc