In the past, people heavily relied on newspapers, TV, and radio for all types of news, including that which dealt with police and complaints against the the men in blue. The police have always been able to use the authority of the office to tell their own story, and be believed. Often when there are no witnesses or recordings, whatever the police officer says is what goes, especially in a court of law. With the invention of cell phones, camera phones, dash cams, and other recording devices, the tides have turned in this once “one sided” story, now giving the average American the power to record unedited footage of the events at hand, causing a shift in accountability, and a perception that all is not well behind the “blue wall”.
As police officers continue to adjust to the fact that all of their actions may be recorded and available to the public in a blink of the eye, Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, tells CNN, “For police officers, it can take a while to sink in [that they may be filmed]. As police officers do take in that new reality, we may see a revolution in terms of a drastic reduction in brutality. We may not, but it’s too early to tell.”
While many officers are adjusting to the new form of accountability, others are showing no regard to the recent increase in public display of force, causing the local departments to offer their own version of real time video recording. Recently the state of Texas put forth a bill that would require officers to wear and engage a body cam on all their patrols, ensuring that every interaction is recorded from the officers point of view.
A Decade of Change
Over the last ten years, technology has continued to advance from dash cams to personal cell phones and even body cams worn by those protecting us. But how has this new technology affected the overall levels of police brutality over the years?
Cop Crisis is dedicated to ongoing reports of the current police brutality statistic, and while reporting a significant decrease over recent years, the total number of Americans killed by police in 2016 is still a staggering number, 613 to be exact. But that is nearly half of what was reported in 2014 and 2015.
Politifact also weighed in on the topic, offering a bit longer perspective over the years and the total number of “justified homicides” by police officers. In 1990, a total of 380 people were killed by officers, in 2013 that number jumped to over 440. But one thing remains startling clear, the data is inconclusive, mostly due to the fact that there is not currently a mandate for local law enforcement to report officers involved shootings to the FBI, creating a loophole and lack of consistent data.
The Future of Reform
While many believe that the increase of body cams, dash cams, and personal cell phones hold the key to reporting and holding those accountable for their actions, history tells us that the current policy and laws held in such matters have had little impact over the years. If we are to truly leverage technology to uphold the law on both sides of the camp, then stricter regulations, tighter mandates of reporting, and stiffer repercussions must follow to ensure that said evidence is used in a way that offers true representation of the recordings.
The ongoing struggle of police brutality is a serious and immediate topic, not just for those who are victims of the crime, but for those officers who are not part of the problem and are simply trying to protect those they swore to serve. While we can see the value and impact of cell phones and videos, finding the right balance of accountability, legal ramifications, and consistent data will be key to using this new technology in a way that truly has a long term impact.