from the the-accountability-unicorn-makes-a-rare-appearance dept
Body-worn cameras as a tool of accountability is an idea whose time has come, but so far, the implementation has been less than ideal. Lawmakers -- pressured by law enforcement agencies and unions -- have frequently pushed legislation that makes it almost impossible for the public to get their hands on recorded footage.
In other cases it's been shown that camera placement results in highly-subjective footage -- where the "first-person" perspective can obscure what's really happening. One notable case resulted in two sets of footage. The body-worn camera footage gave the impression that officers were dealing with a highly-combative arrestee. A nearby surveillance camera showed something completely different: several cops beating a non-resisting suspect.
So, it's somewhat a surprise to hear that body camera footage has resulted in the firing of police officers. For one, officers generally don't get fired. They get suspended. Or, if the misconduct is egregious enough, they're allowed to resign.
In this case, however, multiple officers were fired in connection with the same incident. (h/t Techdirt reader Nathan F)
Three New Orleans police officers were fired Wednesday (June 15), and a fourth suspended, for their roles in a September 2015 incident in which a handcuffed man was hit several times while seated inside the department's French Quarter station.
Officer Alfred Moran's body-worn camera showed him using his hands to strike the man, who had been arrested for public intoxication shortly before midnight on Sept. 30, NOPD said.
[Worth noting here is the fact that the writer has chosen to use police lingo and exonerative passive phrasing while writing about the incident. Officer Moran hit a handcuffed man multiple times. An "incident" didn't just occur wherein a man "was hit." Furthermore, "using his hands to strike the man" is needlessly descriptive and gives the impression that there still might be some legal use of force contained in Moran's actions -- which were, let's not forget, hitting an unarmed, handcuffed man multiple times while in the presence of other officers who did nothing.
The writer then goes on to point out that the beaten man had "argued" with Moran earlier, again skewing the narrative slightly towards the police end of the spectrum. I don't believe these are even conscious decisions on the part of the writer. I think this sort of exonerative reporting is just as ingrained in some journalists as the blithe acceptance of misconduct is ingrained in some police organizations.
These firings are notable. This is something that just doesn't happen. When it does, it's usually only after an extended period of deflection where police spokespeople say things about "ongoing investigations" and "wanting to get all the facts first," while berating the media for reporting on the incident in a "one-sided" fashion and causing the public to "rush to judgment."
Also notable is the fact that this agency proactively reviews body cam footage, rather than simply uploading it and hoping it's overwritten before anyone files a complaint against an officer.
The incident came to light the following day during a supervisor's routine review of body-worn camera footage, said NOPD spokesman Tyler Gamble.
Even better, it wasn't just the abusive cop who was fired/punished. It was also those around him who not only did not intervene, but lied to cover up the misconduct.
NOPD's Public Integrity Bureau launched criminal and administrative investigations. But Moran, Simmons and Jennings were "untruthful" during the investigation, Gamble said. Tyler, meanwhile, answered honestly when questioned.
This is a very good -- and very rare -- thing. Law enforcement agencies tend to encourage bad behavior by delivering minimal punishment and allowing other officers present at the scene -- who didn't intervene and/or participated in the cover-up -- to walk away from it completely unscathed.
The inadvertently hilarious response to these firings comes from the police union -- which believes officers' testimony should outweigh video footage that directly contradicts their statements.
"Among many others, we have warned numerous times that video evidence only has value in context of the officer's perception of events and other measurable factors," [police union attorney Donovan] Livaccari said. "In this case, the video evidence, which was inconclusive, was relied on entirely in spite of testimonial evidence to the contrary..."
In other words, don't believe your eyes. Believe what you're told. Video footage should only be viewed in the "context" of assertions made by officers seeking to avoid punishment for wrongdoing. And only a police union rep could make the assertion that "officer's perception" is a "measurable factor" with a straight face. Yes, there's nothing more quantifiable than subjectivity, especially when it conflicts directly with more objectively-obtained evidence of wrongdoing.