From Radley “The Agitator” Balko, this Washington Post story of police from Prince George’s County, Maryland who stopped and ordered a TV reporter, Andrea McCarren, out of her car at gun point. She was award $5,000 for her troubles, .
In her lawsuit, McCarren alleged that police manhandled her in an attempt to intimidate her into dropping a probe into the possible misuse of county government resources. McCarren and her attorneys said she suffered tendon damage to a shoulder when an officer grabbed her right wrist and yanked it behind her back.
Aside from the absurd award, the really interesting aspect of this story can be found in the last paragraph:
In all, nine police cars from Prince George’s and Cheverly responded. Although most of the squad cars were equipped with video cameras, police said none of them were working that day, Pavsner said.
No need for the apologists to provide “reasons” why this could happen, or the conspiracy theorists to offer the obvious reasons why the police concealed the evidence of their wrongdoing. As much as I enjoy baseless speculation as much as the next blawger, this isn’t about the cameras per se. This is about how another magic bullet solution, cameras in cruisers, somehow manages to fulfill its promise. It doesn’t matter if the cops deep-sixed the tapes, or the cameras all failed for lack of simple maintenance under rough conditions. It matters that another of the brilliant solutions to “all our problems” never seems to work out quite the way we hope.
Hope. Whether it’s because we are idealists, optimists or just refuse to give up, we continue to have hope that we can improve our systems to the point where human error, hatred, prejudice and rage will no longer trump right and wrong. No matter how many times our hope is dashed, it is renewed with the next great idea. We never learn.
Whether it’s videotaped confessions, or double-blind sequential line-ups, we insist that this will “fix” the system. They may well improve things, at least until law enforcement figures out a way to use it against us. But our expectations in magic bullets has no better chance of being the fix than did those 9 squad car cameras have of showing the reporter being subjected to excess force.
It’s not the procedures or the equipment that makes things go terribly wrong. It’s the people, the judges, prosecutors and police. It’s the criminal defense lawyers as well, who lack the nerve to fight the good fight. No one has come up with a magic bullet that will change the people.
As much as I hate to be the wet blanket of the criminal defense bar, when everyone else is jumping on the bandwagon of these new procedures and technologies, someone has to harp on the fact that none of this will ever overcome the law and order culture of the courts, the us against them culture of the police, the self-righteousness of the young prosecutors and the gutlessness and greed of the criminal defense bar. The rest is bells and whistles.