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.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: cameras, dallas, dallas police department, police

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. icon
    nasch (profile), 21 May 2014 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Risking Officers' Lives

    It's just more photogenic, nobody wants to see TV dramas about garbagemen or roofers.

    I'm sure the Discovery Channel will get around to them eventually.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.