It was 20 years ago this week the nine minutes of grainy video footage Los Angeles police beating Rodney King helped to spur dramatic reforms in a department that many felt operated with impunity, says the Los Angeles Times. The video played a central role in the criminal trial of four officers, whose not-guilty verdicts in 1992 triggered days of rioting in Los Angeles in which more than 50 people died.
Today, things are far different and the tape that so tainted the LAPD has a clear legacy in how officers think about their jobs. Police work in a YouTube world in which cellphones double as cameras, news helicopters transmit close-up footage of unfolding police pursuits, and surveillance cameras capture arrests or shootings. Police officials are increasingly recording their officers. Compared to the cops who beat King, officers these days hit the streets with a new reality ingrained in their minds: Someone is always watching. “Early on in their training, I always tell them, ‘I don’t care if you’re in a bathroom taking care of your personal business…. Whatever you do, assume it will be caught on video,’ ” said Sgt. Heather Fungaroli, who supervises recruits at the LAPD’s academy. “We tell them if they’re doing the right thing then they have no reason to worry.” The ubiquitous use of cameras by the public has helped serve as a deterrent to police abuse, said Geoff Alpert, a leading expert on police misconduct.