A Cop Gets It

Too often, the reaction to reports of police misconduct is condemnation of all cops.  Those who have been harmed, or feel hatred, will impugn every one of them, and every thing they do.  It’s understandable, and maybe deserved in the way that even “good” cops stand idly by as bad ones do as they please, but it tends to skew our understanding and reinforce the one dimensional image of the evil cops.

The problem is that it’s not that simple.  The worse problem is that from time to time, we need police to assist us, and they do.  The same cop who does something truly awful one day will save a child’s life the next.  The point is to eliminate the former and appreciate the latter.  With that in mind, it’s worth noting when a police officer comes out and takes a stand that runs contrary to the norm.

The June edition of American Cop Magazine has an editorial arguing in favor of citizens videotaping cops.

Aren’t we known for saying, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, what are you worried about?” This same mentality should also apply to us. If we’re doing our job professionally and within the law, what’ve we got to worry about if someone’s filming us — especially if they’re doing so without getting in our way? If we decide we don’t like being filmed and take our attention away from what we’re doing, we are the ones delaying ourselves, not the person filming us. If the person is making snide comments, ignore it unless the comments are inciting a riot, but there again it will all be caught on film, right?

Should we ever expect to have a right to privacy when we’re in public? I don’t think so; cops are public employees. We can record comments and statements made by suspects/arrestees sitting in the back of our police cars where there’s no expectation of privacy. Thus, there should be an even lower standard of privacy outside the police car. We routinely record and surveil citizens without their permission, so why should there be a separate set of rules regarding them recording or filming us? If a bad guy doesn’t have to consent to being filmed, cops shouldn’t either. Should Internal Affairs be required to get consent to film or record from a cop suspected of criminal or unprofessional conduct?

Simplistic perhaps, but direct: if they’re doing nothing wrong, so what?  The argument has been made before, with the reaction that citizens don’t understand the job of police officer, and their expectations and demands, upon seeing its performance happen, place unreasonable and dangerous limitations on a cop’s performance.

The editorial writer, unnamed from what I can tell, doesn’t seem to care (in similarly clear language):

I think back at the number of times I was made aware I was being taped and I can’t recall ever giving a rat’s ass about it. I was also never hauled into IA to watch a video of me misbehaving either. So maybe those of us getting our skirts up over our heads about this should take a long hard look in the mirror before crying foul.

The reality is, cops have very public jobs, like it or not. We’re expected to behave professionally even when faced with overwhelming challenges. The public generally knows we’ve got a tough job, but no one is forcing us to do it. Some people have an axe to grind with police tactics, there’s no changing this mindset, and they’ll do their best to catch us making mistakes, misbehaving, abusing our authority or losing control. It happens sometimes to the best of us. It’s best to admit our mistakes and take our lumps.

What this reflects, from my perspective, is the cultural shift that needs to happen before any real change is going to turn the perception of police as an invading force into trusted protectors.

This editorial isn’t a sappy, hand-wringing, “what about the rights of poor citizens” sort of thing that might be written by a criminal defense lawyer, or a victim of police misconduct, but rather what appears to be a regular cop’s way of expressing that police need to “man up” and stop their whining about being filmed.  It acknowledges misconduct, which is more than can be said of many judges, though it doesn’t seem to recognize its seriousness.  “Admit our mistakes and take our lumps” hardly seems to cover some of the more heinous things captured on video.

Still, in its simplicity, it reflects a change at the baseline of at least one police officer’s view of where they fit into society.  They are public employees. They have a tough job, but the job is to do it “professionally,” even when faced with “overwhelming challenges.”  It may not be clear what he means by “professionally,” but it is clear that he doesn’t think concealing it from the public, prevent it being documented on video, is the way to protect cops from scutiny.

What makes this editorial fascinating is that it’s not a Pollyanna vision of police work, and I would suspect that he would be quite willing to argue that half of what we see as misconduct is proper police procedure, the sort of argument that makes us nuts.  And yet, he’s willing to bear up to the scrutiny of video and hash it out later.

It’s a gutsy editorial, and a move in the right direction.  And it’s the right thing to do.

H/T Radley Balko

3 comments on “A Cop Gets It

  1. Jesse

    He left his name off it for good reason. The police union would claw to have him demoted, ostracized, possibly fired.

    Government unions are bad, but police unions are poisonous. They excuse and protect the worst cops at all costs, while clamoring for more pay and benefits. The only bad thing one can do in their eyes is to blow the whistle.

  2. John Burgess

    I’ll be very interested in reading responses to the editorial. That should give some indication of whether this needed shift is actually happening across the board or if we’ve just a ‘good cop gone bad’ situation.

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