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Who Owns Police Videos?

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VOX POP-For two years the city of Gardena refused to release video  taken by police officers during the shooting death of an unarmed civilian. A federal judge finally forced the city to release this video so the public could see what the officers had done. The shooting of unarmed civilian who was not engaged in any criminal activity is a shocking event. 

The judge ruled that since the city had paid a settlement for the actions of the policeman, the public was entitled to know how the money was being spent. The multimillion-dollar settlement following the death of the unarmed civilian gave those citizens the right to see all evidence relative to that settlement. 

But what if there was no settlement, would the city still be required to disclose the contents of any video that was shot by police officers and paid for by the citizens. When those persons who work for the public are taped in accordance with their job is there an inherent right to withhold such information from the public that pays them? 

The use of police video cannot work simply one way. It is not merely a tool to support the contentions of a police officer when they have the camera running. It is a tool to show an entire event that occurred when a police officer is involved. No citizen can restrict the police from releasing video in which the citizen has an encounter with that police officer. Conversely, a police officer can request the video not be shown to the public if it may involve some disciplinary procedure for the officer. 

The purpose of car video and body cameras is to create a feeling of confidence and to show the public that police officers are in fact doing their job without excessive force. This is done to encourage public trust of police officers. The many revelations about police activity that have been captured by cellular phone cameras was one of the leading causes of the increase in the use of dashboard cams and body cameras for police officers. 

What activity is that officer engaged in that should be shielded from the public’s view? Public confidence cannot remain high when public officials withhold critical pieces of information in a deadly shooting. 

It is not my place the judge behavior of the Gardena police officer that shot an unarmed civilian. It is the right of the public to know the facts behind such a shooting and make their own decision. When the information necessary to make such a decision is withheld from the public for the benefit of the police officer, a public employee, improper behavior will continue. 

The typical police response to any shooting of an unarmed civilian is continually "I felt threatened". When such feeling of a threat is not supported by all relevant evidence, then an evaluation of the behavior must be made.  The question becomes was it a realistic belief of that threat or was it merely an excuse for improper conduct by that officer? The video showing the complete activity of the event will allow for evaluation, by the taxpayer, of the behavior of that officer. The failure to release such video gives the impression that there is something to hide. You do not gain public confidence when your law enforcement officials are engaged in hiding evidence. 

In all fairness to the police, they are continually called upon to make split-second decisions regarding life and death. If you make enough decisions you will certainly make some bad ones. Attempting to hide bad decisions does not allow you to grow from such an event. Bad judgment is improved when it is evaluated and corrective action taken. 

Public property is that which the public pays for. Police cars, cameras and the related video are the property of the public. To deny the public access to the things that it pays for is to deny them access to the police department that they pay for. A police department, which is not responsive to the needs of the public, will not garner public support for its activities. The failure to gain public support for the police behavior put the police in an even more difficult situation.  The public has every right to know how its money is spent. 

 

(Clinton Galloway  is the author of the fascinating book “Anatomy of a Hustle: Cable Comes to South Central LA”.    This is another installment in an ongoing CityWatch series on power, influence and corruption in government … Corruption Watch. Galloway is a CityWatch contributor and can be  reached here.

 -cw

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 13 Issue 59

Pub: Jul 21, 2015