Want to Keep Cops in Check? There’s an App for That

Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Amadou Diallo. Rodney King.

No matter where you stand on the issue of law enforcement officials and their permitted-by-law ability to inflict deadly harm on suspects under certain circumstances, it’s likely you can get behind the following statement:

When police officers abuse their power or take action beyond the scope of the law, they should be punished.

Unfortunately, in some cases where police shoot suspects or otherwise inflict physical harm (ostensibly in an effort to detain them), there’s a lack of evidence to determine whether that physicality was necessary. For example, in the case of Michael Brown – the 18-year-old Missouri teenager who was shot at least six times by police earlier this month, and who eventually succumbed to those injuries – the Ferguson, Mo. police officer’s cruiser wasn’t equipped with a dash camera. On top of that, the officer didn’t have any video recording equipment on him.

It’s 2014, and while cameras might cost some money, those costs would pale in comparison to the budget of the average police officer. Especially considering those cameras would serve as an additional level of security for the communities these organizations are established to protect: Video cameras could serve to protect the public from rogue police officers who act out of step with their law-given privileges.

So where do we go from here?

We the People… Will Figure Out How to Protect Ourselves

America: For the people, by the people. At least that’s what we’ve been brought up to believe. But even though we do have the ability to elect our officials, sometimes it seems like we might not have that much of a shot at actually enacting change.

But that’s okay. We can always take things into our own hands.

Following Brown’s death, people took to whitehouse.gov with a petition requiring all cops to wear video cameras. Within a few days, the petition already gathered more than 100,000 votes, meaning the Obama administration will be required to officially respond to it.

If that’s not enough, three teenagers in Georgia have created an app – Five-O – that lets users rate every interaction they have with police officers. That way, at the very least, there will be a way to honestly critique the performance of police officers. One would like to think that if a particular officer got noticeably rough ratings from a variety of reviewers, his or her chief would have a talk with that cop to make sure behavior improves.

The Technology’s Already There – So Why Aren’t They Using It?

It remains to be seen how the Brown case will unfold. As it stands now, it’s a he said/she said situation. If the Ferguson Police Department had been using video cameras, the case would be easily resolved. The facts would speak for themselves.

And why wouldn’t we, as a society, want that? After all, it’s called the justice system for a reason: People who abide by the law are also protected by it. On the other hand, people who break the law – from the bum on the corner, to the banker on Wall Street, to the police officer in a small town – are bound to suffer from the consequences spelled out in our laws.

You could certainly understand how that would put all police officers in a tricky situation. After all, sometimes, their lives are literally on the line. How do you react under such trying situations?

And after having been in them, how does that alter future reactions to perhaps seemingly similar circumstances?

Michael Brown was shot at least six times. Whether those shots were justified under the language of the law remains to be seen. But if video evidence of the situation existed, I think the public could get behind the outcome, regardless of what it was.

Supporters of Officer Darren Wilson would probably turn against the cop if it could be proven that he shot someone for little or no reason. Likewise, those who say Brown was murdered by Wilson would probably be more supportive of the officer if footage revealed the teenager was charging when he was shot.

Ferguson and the Future

Of course, the events in Ferguson are horrific, no matter which angle you look at them from. While technology might not altogether prevent such events from happening in the future, there’s documented proof that it could lead to an all-around improvements.

The police department in Rialto, California, a small town in San Bernardino County, put cameras on all of its police officers.

The result? The number of complaints against police officers fell by 88 percent, and the “use of force” statistic similarly shrunk by 59 percent.

And why is that? Do police officers who are forced to wear cameras act differently – more in accordance with the law – than their peers who do not? Or does public perception change as citizens begin to feel police officers are more likely to be held accountable, thereby making their actions more acceptable?

That’s a conundrum perhaps better left unsolved. In any event, if the cameras improve the public perception of the police, and in turn help keep our law enforcement officers honest, then justice has most certainly been served.

Image Credit: Flickr

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