I believe that accountability in the police force is a major step in reforming the police. If an activity is not deterred by punishment the said activity will most likely continue, especially when the individual finds themselves not only immune to harm or consequence but perhaps even benefitting from certain policies. One supreme court ruling recently found that in essence cops can “shoot first and ask questions and later” for lack of a better way of saying it. In this decision it sets a precedent, which essentially renders police officers all but immune from being charged with or sued for excessive force, a privilege some citizens don’t even get in certain self-defense cases. Since this essentially renders police officers immune from consequence or deterrent this means that shootings, even needless ones, should be expected to continue.
It is my belief that the responsibility of government is primarily to protect the lives of our citizens, and this decision does not reflect a fulfillment of that obligation. Accountability is an absolute must if those sworn to protect and to serve can efficiently and honorably serve the community and provide for the public safety, rather than being a threat to it. That being said what steps can we still take to ensure an accountable police force?
Rules of Engagement on A Local and Departmental Level
In theory, the aforementioned ruling does not necessarily indicate that an employer cannot set guidelines for an employee that involve strict rules when a police officer can open fire and when they cannot. It does seem to render them immune from being charged with excessive force under the law on a criminal or civil level, but I believe it could be argued that it still lies within the right of employer and within the rights of a locality and/or state to regulate the members of its own police force while in their employ. It is probable that one could argue based on the tenth amendment that the federal courts have no jurisdiction over the rules and regulations a police officer must follow to remain in the employ of a local department that can set its own policies and procedures.
That means that you have to get involved at a state and local level to ensure strict rules of engagement are on the books as it pertains to your local police department and it’s up to you to hold your local and state representatives accountable in implementing them.
Lights, Camera, Action
Part of the problem with instances of police brutality is that it all boils down to the officer’s word versus the word of the alleged victim. Many are pre-programmed to automatically believe the word of a cop over the word of an accused “criminal” for this reason the officer will automatically be absolved when there is no way to prove otherwise. In criminal proceedings, of course, there is also the very necessary protection of being innocent until proven guilty, which in all fairness does apply to police officers as well.
For this reason, we need witnesses that don’t lie and whose word can’t be doubted. We need electronic surveillance. Granted, many police cars are equipped with cameras to record traffic stops but I believe these should be replaced with miniaturized bodycams that are to be worn and functioning at ALL times as a police officer is in the execution of his or her duties. We also need to place more of an emphasis on improving the quality and clear recording capabilities of this equipment.
Police equipment alone, however, may not always be enough. You may need a better angle or a device that can’t be tampered with by a biased party. Call it, a digital second opinion. States and localities need an expansion of laws that protect the rights of citizens to survey and record all on duty and uniformed police officers at all times. There should be no viable cause to charge a citizen, for instance, with “tampering with a police investigation” due to recording on-duty officers in the process of serving the public.
Exceptions can be made for certain crime scenes or in very serious instances, but perhaps this should be left to a judge and not the jurisdiction of the cop to make up the rules in the field. The right of citizens to record their police officers in public must be protected at all costs. If I worked for you and you paid my salary, I would say you have some right to record me to ensure honesty and efficiency in the execution of my duties the same way a store owner places cameras around his establishment to prevent shoplifting.
I submit to you therefore, it must be the sacred right of the taxpayer to survey and record an officer while he or she is in process of performing the duties their taxes pay them to do.
One of the great flaws of investigations regarding police incidents is that they are investigated by the police themselves. Imagine you take a club of people and divided a small portion of that club into a group of people to make sure those people serve not just the needs of the club but also the needs of those the club was formed to serve. Are members of the club itself going to be unbiased in that situation? It seems to me we should have an institution, perhaps private, that is less close to the police than “internal affairs” to investigate well, the police.