In recent months, law enforcement leaders around the U.S. have found themselves backed into the same corner following controversial police shootings captured on video. Chiefs in Fresno, Charlotte, N.C., El Cajon, Ca., and other cities initially refused to make the recordings public. After days of protests and continuing demands for transparency, police leaders relented and released the video in the hope of reducing tensions and validating their accounts of what happened, the Los Angeles Times reports. Faced with criticism over the fatal police shooting of a black 18-year-old last weekend, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck found himself in a similar position and opted yesterday to release surveillance footage that showed Carnell Snell Jr. holding a gun moments before he was shot.
Beck, a staunch advocate of keeping such videos confidential, said he acted out of concern for public safety as well as to correct claims by some who knew Snell who said that the teen didn’t have a gun. “My huge concern is that the dueling narratives further divide the community,” he said. The move underscored the challenge law enforcement agencies confront in trying to keep video of police shootings confidential during a time of heightened public scrutiny of how officers use force. By releasing videos in these high profile cases, police departments have set the expectation they will make recordings public in the future. “What you’re seeing is basically a policy of appeasement,” said Prof. Jon Shane of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former police captain in Newark, N.J. Shane said state legislatures should decide the rules for making recordings public. In California, lawmakers have repeatedly failed to draw up statewide policies on the issue.