Thursday, August 21, 2014

Who Trusts the Police?

One of Andrew Sullivan's readers wrote in about his recent experience on a jury:
A young Hispanic male from a nearby town known for its drug trade was targeted and arrested by a drug task force, although no drug charges were presented. He was charged with two counts of assault with a deadly weapon (ramming the undercover cruiser behind him with his car), operating a motor vehicle to endanger (driving on the sidewalk to evade the ad hoc police blockade), leaving the scene of an accident, negligent operation (running stop signs) and failure to stop for police.

The very first question the defense lawyer asked was, “Where’s the video?” Of course there was none, and in the absence of actual evidence, video or otherwise, the six middle/upper-middle class white people that composed our jury took it on faith that four police officers would casually perjure themselves and voted not guilty on the assault and endangerment charges. At one point, one of the jury members asked “Why are there no witnesses?” I’m no friend of the police, but I felt I had to remind the group that technically the State presented four witnesses – the four police officers.

In the end, we voted to convict on the negligent operation and failure to stop charges, based on the defendant’s own account of the episode during his testimony. I couldn’t help but think that the police have a real, existential problem when the juror I expected to be most sympathetic to the police – the contractor who told the court he knew a few cops from the neighborhood – turned out to be the one most adamant that the officers’ testimony should be completely disregarded.
I recently heard a similar story from a colleague about a trial in Baltimore; he and his fellow jurors acquitted a young black man accused of being part of a drug gang, not so much because they doubted that he was in the gang as because they found the police account of what happened unbelievable.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

You know what would solve this, and a bunch of related problems? Requiring police officers to be recording video of their duties at all times.

Thanks to modern technology including advanced miniaturization and digital recording, cameras are cheaper, smaller, lighter, more durable, more reliable, capture in better quality, and have lower energy usage and longer lasting batteries than ever before. They can transmit and upload footage in essentially real time wirelessly to remote storage devices, and local and integral storage drives are small, high volume, convenient, and cheap.

Make it a federal law that all LEOs have active cameras as part of their on-duty uniforms. Make it a crime to disable or tamper with these devices, and hold officers accountable for failure to maintain them or otherwise display negligence that results in the devices being inoperative or unuseable.

If police forces can afford to put together SWAT teams armed to the teeth with military grade weapons (which it still costs to train them how to use, even if they receive the equipment for free or nearly so), they can afford to equip officers with cameras as standard on-duty uniform components. Heck, even if they refuse to cut spending elsewhere and the cameras add to total policing costs, you still would likely save in the long run in terms of legal costs, insurance costs, corrections costs in terms of fewer false jailings, public relations costs, internal affairs and oversight costs, et cetera, et cetera.

Remember how reports of UFOs used to be a lot more common, but today they've largely gone the way of the dodo? You know what changed between then and now? Cameras got better and cheaper. So where the hell are all the aliens? With so many more people having access to such higher quality cameras, you'd think we'd see MORE plausible and believeable photos of UFOs, right? If they're out there, and our capacity to record them is better than ever, why is the number of recordings of reported UFOs so much lower than it used to be? Well it turns out that when you have more people independently recording strange phenomenon like supposed UFOs, all that extra data you can source and cross reference ends up proving that no, it wasn't in fact a flying saucer - it was just an unusual atmospheric effect, be it manmade or completely natural.

So why the hell don't we do the same thing with the police? So many criminal cases come down to "He Said / She Said" due to a complete lack of material evidence - so why the hell don't we ensure that we produce more material evidence? We have the technology to do so easily!