Videos Transform Police Misconduct Issue; It’s Not “Running Rampant”


The explosion of citizen video has fueled a national debate about race and policing and transformed how people weigh claims of police misconduct. State legislators around the U.S. have taken steps to ensure video can keep rolling, says the Wall Street Journal. At least six states adopted laws since 2014 to clarify that filming police is almost always protected under the Constitution. New laws in Connecticut and Colorado expose police to fines if officers wrongly interfere with or destroy legal recording. The ubiquity of video has caused a historic rise in the verification of complaints against the New York Police Department. In the first nine months of 2015, 23 percent of such complaints were substantiated by a city review board, up from 17 percent in 2014 and 8 percent in 2011. Police departments say they want to be transparent, and about 40 percent of departments now equip officers with body cameras.

Usually, police officials say, such footage shows officers acting properly and guards against bogus misconduct claims. Many videos show officers in a positive light. President Obama tweeted praise of a Washington, D.C., police officer who defused a potential fight by engaging in an impromptu dance-off. “Who knew community policing could involve the Nae Nae?” he said. Some police officers say the legions of smartphone videographers can hamper them. “They try to get closer to the police than is necessary, and they get in the way sometimes,” said Baltimore police Lt. Victor Gearhart. Witnesses can be scared off, he said: “They don't want to end up on Facebook and all their friends see them talking to police.” Tom Manger, police chief in Montgomery County, Md., disputed that video is pulling back a curtain on police misconduct. “Cameras are going to make everybody behave a little bit better, but I don't think that in the absence of cameras, police misbehavior is running rampant,” said Manger, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, whose members include 67 U.S. departments.

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