Rather than order bystanders to stop taping, Pattis says, it’s better for the officer to simply order the bystanders to stand back. And if they don’t, “then maybe they should be introduced to handcuffs,” says Pattis, who adds that in most cases people understand that an officer has the right to protect the scene.
As for videotape as a tool in criminal or civil court, Pattis reminds agency heads, “Video is a more powerful tool than a memory.”
Going to court armed with a recording
The courts have held that the most important viewpoint at a scene where officer misconduct or brutality is alleged is the officer’s and no one else’s.
“It’s not a God’s-eye view,” says Pattis.
OBRS that are placed even with the officer’s line of sight, like the glasses that Salt Lake City Police were contemplating at the end of 2012, are invaluable to showing police exactly what the officer perceived, which can sometimes be substantially different from what actually took place. What a bystander sees and what the officer sees can also be two separate things.
Dr. John DeCarlo, former chief of the Branford, Conn., Police Department, and an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven, agrees with Pattis.
“The line between force and excessive use of force is gray sometimes,” DeCarlo says. He believes that the public often takes the use of force out of context, mainly because they perceive it from a different angle.
“When we look at it, we look at it from a contextually different position,” he says. Basically, DeCarlo says the ordinary citizen cannot walk in the officer’s shoes because he has no frame of reference. The OBRS can level this particular playing field.
“The bottom line is that (video) brings new evidence in civil litigation against police to the courts, and that could be a good thing; I believe it will result in many more exonerations for police,” he says.
To camera up or not to camera up—is that really a question? How a department should handle videotaping, whether by its own personnel or by the public, should be a matter of written, controlled policy. And for those considering adding OBRS to their crime-fighting arsenal, the time is certainly as right as it’s ever going to be.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.