After Two Officers Are Indicted For Shooting Citizens, Dallas Police Dept. Decides Body Cameras Might Be A Good Idea

from the this-means-no-more-griping-about-citizens-filming-officers dept

Mandatory body cameras for police officers may not fix everything (see also: Albuquerque, NM), but it’s a step in the right direction. The problem is that this directive usually follows preventable tragedies or years of systemic abuse (see also: New York City Police Department). The Dallas, Texas police department is next in line for body cameras, thanks to two of its officers being indicted following questionable shootings.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown called for body cameras for officers this week after two city police officers were indicted for shooting civilians, one of whom was a mentally ill man who was off his medications.

The Associated Press said that Officers Cardan Spencer and Amy Wilburn were both charged with aggravated assault by a public servant in cases where their testimony did not match up with video evidence.

Spencer was indicted by a Dallas County grand jury last week over the shooting of 52-year-old Bobby Bennett, which took place on October 13 of last year. Spencer claimed that Bennett lunged at him with a knife, prompting him to open fire. Video taken from a neighboring house’s surveillance cameras, however, showed Bennett standing stock still on the lawn of his mother’s home in Rylie, TX, before being struck by a bullet and crumpling to the ground.

Here’s the video being referenced, which contradicts (former) Officer Spencer’s report.


Putting cameras on officers will remind them that they are being recorded and won’t be as able to rewrite narratives on the fly. (Of course, officers have ways of circumventing this technology and remaining unrecorded…)

This new policy is being greeted with doomsaying by the local police union.

Dallas Police Association President Ron Pinkston, who had criticized the firings of Wilburn and Spencer, said he is “disgusted and alarmed” by the decision, especially since Bennett did have a knife.

“The Dallas Police Department has the most restrictive deadly force policy in the nation,” he said. “I believe Dallas police officers will now be hesitant and reluctant to use deadly force, and the result will be more names on the police memorial wall.”

This is the usual bluster pushed by police unions any time someone finds an officer at fault. All hell will apparently break loose if civil liberties are respected and deadly force curtailed. The Dallas Police Memorial Wall features memorializes a total of 80 officers who died in the line of duty — over the last 122 years. Only about 46 of these deaths can be potentially attributed to the deadly actions of others. (29 were accidental or natural causes.) The six deaths attributed to police pursuit could land in either column, especially as more people realize high speed pursuits endanger everybody, not just the cops or the person being pursued. This means Dallas cops are dying at the hands of criminals at a rate of about one every three years — a rate much, much lower than those dying at the hands of officers, who have two unjustified killings since last October.

This is the same argument Mayor Bloomberg offered when it appeared “his” officers would be subjected to some actual oversight. Cops will die because they’ll hesitate. Given these two indictments, it seems highly unlikely. The mentally ill man was shot while he stood still with his hands at his sides. The other person killed was unarmed.

And let’s not forget that the Dallas PD has one of the most accommodating policies in the nation when it comes to officer-involved shootings, one that allows narratives to be created post facto, utilizing all available information at hand.

Any Dallas officer involved in a police shooting — whether the officer fired a weapon or witnessed the gunfire — will now have the right to remain silent for 72 hours under a new department policy.

And even before they give a statement about the shooting, the officers can watch any available video before they give a statement.

The Dallas PD snuck this one through during the 2013 Thanksgiving holiday, prompted by (former) officer Spencer’s shooting. Or more accurately, prompted by the emergence of a recording disputing his account of the incident. Unfortunately, the DPD has yet to offer the same 72-hour “cooldown” period to members of the public who have fired a weapon or witnessed gunfire. I guess the “first 48” approach applies to public only.

The police union head also made the following claim in his plea for officers to remain unobserved and unaccountable.

“The video is just one part of the investigation,” he insisted to the AP. “But that’s not what the public sees. They only see the video and they make conclusions off the one piece of evidence.”

Video lies, or at least omits pertinent gut feelings, apparently. Remember, an officer’s training and instinct outweighs contradictory video evidence, at least according to one court. The police union chief thinks that the public draws the wrong conclusions from video — that public apparently also including the normally cop-friendly grand jurists, who saw that Spencer’s statement was blatantly false and the shooting unjustified.

The first step is putting the cameras on the officers. The next step is ensuring the devices remain on and unaltered. The third is actually holding officers accountable when misconduct rears its ugly head. The presence of cameras should discourage both sides of the interaction from escalating unnecessarily and easily disprove false allegations about misconduct or excessive force.

This technology can be beneficial for cops as well, but those who prefer their cops unobserved tend to ignore this fact. That convenient logic hole indicates that union heads know their officers are abusing their position and power all too frequently — and will fight any oversight attempt that might expose this.

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Comments on “After Two Officers Are Indicted For Shooting Citizens, Dallas Police Dept. Decides Body Cameras Might Be A Good Idea”

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25 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Good first step

Now, they just need to follow that ‘first step’ of indictment with a conviction for murder, with jail time to match.

If simply having a knife is considered acceptable grounds to kill someone according to the police union there, they might as well just declare a shooting free-for-all, given how many people regularly carry things that might be dangerous.

Also, I know lawyers and politicians get a bad rap, but how twisted do you have to be to be a police union rep in a place like that? To honestly argue that oversight, rules and regulations that would protect against police abuse, potentially saving lives, is a bad thing?

zip says:

first step

The first step should be to outlaw police unions and insure that any ‘internal affairs’ investigation unit is completely independent, and for the most part, adversarial. (Policemen are, after all, supposed to be servants of the people, not an occupation army.) Along these lines, any cop who “pleads the Fifth” will automatically be fired from the force, and lose all pension benefits.

Thorough accountability must be the first step, otherwise any police-owned camera will conveniently “malfunction” whenever subjected to public scrutiny.

Finally, all videos must be public record — without having to battle it out in court to get them. It should be no harder than having the former arrestee (or the family of the deceased) walk into a police station, fill out a form, and get the video. Right then, not in 6 months or two years. And they should have the right to put it on the internet — immediately, not after the case is adjourned. Most videos only become public and show up on Youtube many weeks, months or years after they were recorded. Too many videos never see the light of day, often because of a confidential “settlement” – one in which the taxpayers get raped while the police get to keep their dirty secrets secret.

Anonymous Coward says:

Maybe Buffalo and Baltimore should do the same

http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/victims-friend-called-911-before-beating-to-complain-of-harassment-by-off-duty-cops-sources-say-20140516

and

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/crime/blog/bs-md-ci-teen-hospital-police-death-20140519,0,3989350.story

(If you don’t want to follow the links: Buffalo police beat a veteran into a coma and had the bar owner throw the surveillance videotape in the trash. The victim will likely have permanent brain damage. Baltimore police tased an already-medicated teenager 5 times because apparently 5 security guards and 2 cops were too wimpy to subdue him. The victim is dead.)

Of course cowardly weaklings like Ron Pinkston will whine about cameras too. What a pity that such miserable and inferior people are permitted the PRIVILEGE of being a public servant.

PlayNicely says:

Risking Officers' Lives

We need to get rid of the notion that the first concern in policework is the safety of the officers. No it is not. If that was the case officers would never step outside.

Police duty is well known to be somewhat dangerous and this is why police officers are armed and (hopefully) well trained – everyone signing up for that job must be aware of that fact. It is what they are supposed to be respected for. Their job is to protect the public and to enforce the law whilst minimizing the harm they have to inflict upon others and themselves in that process.

The ability and motivation to resolve a situation like the one at hand (mentally ill person armed with a knife) without the use of deadly force is what their training is supposed to achieve.

Yes, a person armed with a knife can be very dangerous, but every single police officer (let alone two of them) should be capable of disarming an untrained person with a knife (and with suitable protective gear that could be carried around in every police car it should not even be particularly dangerous).

This holds mostly true even if the person with the knife charged at the officers as they claimed, so even in that case I would not file the incident under “good policework” or “ideal outcome”.

Furthermore psychological screening at the start of police training should weed out people who are motivated by thoughts like “one weirdo less” (which I speculate to be the true motivation of the incident).

zip says:

Re: Risking Officers' Lives

“every single police officer (let alone two of them) should be capable of disarming an untrained person with a knife”

It’s funny that cops in many other countries around the world seem to have a much easier time dealing with knife-carrying kooks without having to resort to firing tasers or guns … which they don’t even carry.

What’s their secret, and why can’t US cops learn it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Got a fix for that

” The next step is ensuring the devices remain on and unaltered.”

Wire it to a taser whose electrodes are in contact with their skin. If they turn off the camera, the taser fires and remains in continuous firing mode until the camera is turned back on.

Even someone as stupid as a cop should be able to learn from Pavlovian conditioning.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Cops will die because they’ll hesitate.”

This here is a contradiction.
You don’t THINK that you MIGHT be in danger. You KNOW.
And if you know that your life is in danger? then you don’t hesitate even if you might end up in prison.

Sure, when under pressure anyone can missjudge the situation but if the Cop have any kind of dubt whether using his gun is justified. then right there is the proof that it isn’t.

AricTheRed says:

Re: The Associate President can be as disgusted all they want

?The Dallas Police Department has the most restrictive deadly force policy in the nation,? he said. ?I believe Dallas police officers will now be hesitant and reluctant to use deadly force, and the result will be more names on the police memorial wall.?

Sounds like a good start…

antymat says:

Fro the consideration of Mr. Pinkston

I am deeply sorry Mr. Pinkston has been missed out when they were giving out brains. It is obvious, since he did not understand when joining the Police that ending on a memorial wall is an occupational hazard there, and the easiest way to avoid it is – work somewhere else. The same goes with dislike to follow laws and orders. But, as I said, Mr. Pinkston has obviously NOT been gifted with brains…

DangerMoose (profile) says:

Risking Officers' Lives

Police duty is well known to be somewhat dangerous

As compared to a desk job, sure. Not as dangerous as fisherman or logger or pilot or farmer or garbageman or roofer or truck driver or cabbie, though, or some of the construction trades. It’s just more photogenic, nobody wants to see TV dramas about garbagemen or roofers. So let’s worry about police after we’ve taken care of the really dangerous occupations.

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