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Cops Love Body Camera Footage... When It Clears Officers Of Any Wrongdoing

from the Instagram-filters-but-for-rights-violations dept

Cops have a "tell." It's so obvious and yet they still pretend it isn't. Whenever something questionable goes down, all anyone has to do is ask for the recordings.

If the recording exonerates cops (or at least makes it a close call in their favor), law enforcement agencies will release the footage, often without anyone asking for it. If there might be rights violations or a questionable killing, cops will delay or deny the release of footage. In some cases, no footage is recorded at all. In others, the footage will go missing.

This "tell" is highlighted in a recent ACLU post, which compares the responsiveness of two law enforcement agencies. The one that can't immediately justify officers' actions chose to withhold, asserting a bunch of stipulations, policies, and public records exceptions to justify its lack of transparency.

The other chose to proactively release footage in hopes of talking the public into supporting its controversial actions by showing everything wasn't nearly as awful as the high-profile warrant target would make it seem.

First, we have the footage that exonerates law enforcement officers. Earlier this month, Florida law enforcement raided the house of a COVID whistleblower -- a former government employee who was kicked to the curb when COVID stats failed to match the state governor's "EVERYTHING IS FINE" pronouncements. The whistleblower claimed cops pointed guns at her children and otherwise acted excessively given the nature of the charges.

And this remains true, despite the proactive body cam footage release. Cops with guns raided a house over allegations that some hacking had occurred. In reality, the situation was much more muddy, involving a state government system that allowed people to share a password and a supposedly threatening message. When computer crime is responded to by officers with guns and the authorization to use deadly force, things are a bit fucked up. Yes, law enforcement is there to enforce laws, but keyboard warriors use keyboards, not guns. Entering a house with guns drawn drastically overestimates the "danger" officers are facing.

After being excoriated in the press and on social media, the law enforcement agency decided to clear the air. But DO NOT CONGRATULATE. This "transparency" had a clear goal -- and that goal wasn't to place the agency on the top of the transparency charts.

[I]n the Florida case, police body camera footage appears to show the state police acting in a more restrained manner than Jones was alleging. As a result, in what CNN properly noted to be a “rare move”, the state police released the body camera footage publicly, and they did it quickly. Transparency prevailed, but only because it favored the police.

This "raid" wasn't much of a raid. That's why Florida state police released the bodycam footage.

The two videos released by the department show that Jones didn't exit her Tallahassee home until about 23 minutes after officers first rang the doorbell, and 15 minutes after they first announced themselves as police.

When it makes cops seem like the good guys they proclaim themselves to be, transparency abounds. When things are more questionable, cops play it close to the vest, acting like legal scholars with years of litigation experience behind them, rather than the people who get a free pass when they conveniently misinterpret laws.

On November 19, Omaha cops shot and killed a 35-year-old black man they pulled from the back seat of a car they had stopped. Cops claim the man had a gun and the struggle over that gun led to his death. But there's reason to question that narrative. And that reason has been supplied by every government agency and law enforcement official denying access to that footage.

Despite having body camera footage of the incident, and immediate calls for transparency, the Omaha Police Department has refused to release the footage despite Nebraska’s strong tradition of open government. This decision, quite understandably, incensed the public. Omaha Deputy City Attorney Bernard in den Bosch, while acknowledging that “in the State of Nebraska, body cam videos are probably public records” nevertheless stated that “we have exercised our right to use the exception in the public records act to withhold them from public dissemination.”

The same goes for the Omaha police. The police chief claims he's just dying (but not as much as the "suspect") to release the footage, but laws surrounding grand jury investigations prevent him from doing so. This, too, is some bullshit.

As the ACLU points out, footage that might "influence" grand juries is released all the time. And those releases rarely turn grand juries against cops. Footage abounds of questionable cop killings -- often recorded by people who aren't cops -- and yet, grand juries rarely fail to find in favor of cops, even while indicting every other non-government ham sandwich that crosses their path.

And that's how this supposed accountability tool actually works. The cops will release footage that makes cops look good. They will withhold almost everything else. The sad thing is, the cops think it's helping them. But it isn't. Anytime law enforcement refuses to release footage (or footage goes missing, etc.), it's safe to assume officers screwed up. Until they're transparent in every situation, this assumption holds.

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Filed Under: body cameras, evidence, police


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 13 Jan 2021 @ 1:44pm

    'I'd love to clear my name, but I just can't...'

    I feel pretty safe in saying that it is a rare instance when a person withholds or otherwise keeps private exonerating evidence, so any time police play keep-away with video the default assumption until proven otherwise should be that it's incriminating and shows the police doing something they shouldn't have done and don't want the public to have evidence of.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nathan F (profile), 13 Jan 2021 @ 2:50pm

    The two videos released by the department show that Jones didn't exit her Tallahassee home until about 23 minutes after officers first rang the doorbell, and 15 minutes after they first announced themselves as police.

    Why did it take them 8 minutes to identify themselves?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Capt ICE Enforcer, 13 Jan 2021 @ 7:22pm

      Re: slow ISP

      That is a simple answer. The delay was not due to the keyboard police waiting. No my friend, the home owner has slow internet which created a buffer between video and audio. Thankfully, the owner didn't have Comcast, otherwise we would still be waiting for the audio of keyboard police identifying themselves.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 4:51am

    It's the same culture that leaks like a sieve whenever there's a victim to be smeared. Off duty cop enters an innocent person's apartment and guns them down? 'They had weed! WEED!' Enter an innocent woman's home without warning and gun her down? 'Well, her Ex boyfriend was a bad guy, you see, so we need to keep harassing her even after the relationship ended, even if we need to falsify evidence to do so!'

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Jan 2021 @ 6:45am

    funny how these cameras turn on automatically when they help the wearers but off when they could help others! i wonder why that is? whoever invented this auto-discriminating 'on-off switch' must be making a fortune!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter (profile), 14 Jan 2021 @ 8:46am

    Is there any valid reason why cops can access the videos first?

    The grand jury-argument used by the police in the example is an interesting one: Would justice be served better if videos were secured in a safe escrow, and released only to the grand jury or other investigators after all parties have submitted statements?
    If the goal were "the trust, and nothing but the truth", such video evidence would go a long way in encouraging cops to explain what really happened.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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