A taste of their own medicine: Using technology to police the police

A few days ago, one of my favorite blogs pointed me, as it quite often does, toward a YouTube video of a SWAT raid.  In this all too common police SNAFU, the SWAT team murdered an innocent man in his home.

The YouTube suggestions on that page then led me to this video of a plainclothes Maryland State Police officer stopping a speeding motorcyclist in his unmarked car and pulling his gun on the rider but never displaying a badge.  The Channel 9 news story goes on to describe how the rider, who was ticketed for speeding and who recorded the incident on his helmet-cam, was later raided by Maryland State Police after posting the video on youtube.  He was charged with a violation of Maryland’s felony wiretapping law.

The suggestions to the right of that video then led me to this video of what starts a routine traffic stop and ends with a police officer tasing a man in front of his pregnant wife for no apparent reason.

A few more YouTube-suggested clicks landed me on this video.  It is titled “Two cops suspended for assaulting six-year-old girl,” which, as titles go, is pretty disturbing.  More disturbing perhaps is that when I watched the video, I was actually surprised that this egregious police behavior did not take place in the U.S.  I have grown so accustomed to seeing abuse of power by federal, state, and local American police officers on YouTube that I expected this was just another such incident.

Now, I do not suffer from some delusion that police brutality and abuse of power is a new phenomenon in the United States.  No doubt some police have always been power-tripping bullies, but only now in the age of the omnipresent video camera are we confronted with evidence of the extent and frequency of the misconduct.

One would think that the high probability of being caught on film (especially by dash cams in their own police cruisers) would serve as a deterrent to this kind of bad policing.  Instead, fear and anger over having their own behavior policed by the camera-wielding populus has spawned a relatively new form of police abuse and harassment in the form of arrests and charges against people who film the police performing their public duties.  The motorcyclist’s story mentioned above is only one of the hundreds of stories out there about people suffering retaliation or abuse at the hands of police for attempting to ensure they are in some way accountable for how they perform the job for which we, the people, pay them.

In this article from American Cop Magazine online, a refreshingly reasonable officer of the law suggests that police are just going to have to deal with the fact that they could be filmed while performing their “very public jobs.”  He also notes that “the officers who appear to be misbehaving are the ones reacting in outrage they‘re being videotaped” and mentions the common police-used statement, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, what are you worried about?”  You probably won’t read this statement too often in this blog, but . . .  that cop is right.  If the police aren’t doing anything wrong, why should they care if we are filming them?

Police are public servants performing a job that takes place largely in public, and yet they would like some protection of their privacy in performing that public job so that they can misbehave with impunity.  They are certainly never concerned with privacy when they are filming and eavesdropping on us, or tracking us with GPS devices, or breaking down our doors to execute warrants, or looking through our windows, fences, garbage, computers, emails, or private Facebook profiles to try to find dirt on us.

Police do have a tough job, but nothing about their job necessitates a double standard that allows them to pry more and more into our lives (mostly with the approval of the current Supreme Court) while at the same time demanding we look away while they behave badly in public. 

We have a right to demand that police, just like any other person, be held accountable when they break the rules.  And like them, we have a right to collect evidence of the rule-breaking.  So keep filming and keep watching, and help ensure that we are protected from our supposed protectors.

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