Video was supposed to be the hammer behind promises of better accountability in the way police use force. Cameras in patrol cars and on officers’ vests or eyeglasses would provide a definitive record to remove doubt from oft-criticized police investigations, and restore credibility to a skeptical public. In some cases, failure to make the videos public is fueling additional skepticism, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
The Rev. Phillip Duvall, an activist questioning the necessity for a St. Louis officer to kill Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011, can recite the answers he received in seeking video: “It’s part of an ongoing investigation.” “We don’t want to jeopardize the investigation.” “We want to protect the integrity of the case.” Duvall says, “That is an articulated pretext that sounds good, but we’re seeing the release of videos across the country and they don’t seem to hamper the prosecution of those cases.” The Smith case is sensitive because former officer Jason Stockley was charged this spring, 4½ years after the shooting, with first-degree murder. Officials have blocked official release of police-held videos, although the Post-Dispatch obtained and published them last month. The videos reinforced another frustration: Many do not provide a clear sense of what happened. In this case, the images do not appear to sustain nor dispute Stockley’s claim of shooting Smith in self-defense.