The gunning down of an armed Fort Worth man who was reportedly shooting at Fort Worth police and had shot another victim in the hand brings up several questions of how video can play a role in protecting both police and civilians. Though this specific shooting in Fort Worth appears to be a clear case of criminal activity being the aggressor, many other such cases over the last few years aren’t as cut and dry, begging for further investigation.
Video has played a more significant role as the cases of alleged police aggression have become more frequent. Whether through official police dash cams and now body cams, or through cell phone footage taken by bystanders, these images have not only directly impacted the proceedings of each case, but have affected the overall sentiment of the general population all over the world towards police and their handling of combative situations.
Surveillance of Those Under Surveillance
Questions of whether police officers acted appropriately can and has been debated by protestors, public officials, the courts, and the court of public opinion—whose voice is becoming increasingly powerful through the form of social media. Central to that debate is the concern for documenting police interaction through video, along with the call to implement laws that make surveillance through body cameras mandatory.
Amateur videos shot by onlookers have been the reference point for many of the recent cases of police conduct in the field. Justice being dependent on the chance of someone being present to record potentially dangerous situations on their cell phone is an unfair expectation.
In fact, the dangers faced by those recording videos of police aggression need to be addressed. For several reasons, people recording these instances experience feelings of fear, intimidation, and concern of repercussions should they make their video public. There is currently a Texas bill being considered that would call for witnesses to stand 25 to 100 feet away from police when they are interacting with residents.
In Chicago, it is not legal to record police without their knowledge. This is a lesson a young woman learned when being charged with a class 1 felony for recording an officer with her Blackberry. But legal or not, the fear these people face is real. Witnessing crimes can take an emotional toll on the viewer in question. Imagine witnessing someone being gunned down, choked to death, or mauled by a dog until they’re no longer moving. Being witness to such a violent situation can leave a mental scar that may never heal. It’s unfair to expect responsibility from bystanders who have the capacity to operate a recording device on their phone.
It must be stated that police officers have one of the most difficult jobs on the planet. They are protecting communities from crime and violence while often putting themselves in dangerous situations that require instant life-or-death reactions. It would be a disservice to have officers second-guessing their training for fear of being filmed and ridiculed by the public, especially when the large majority of their actions are well within the scope of their duties.
Maybe it would benefit both the police forces across the country and its citizens if stricter laws were put in place for mandatory body cameras to be worn by officers at all times. It may also benefit both officers and citizens if protective laws were endorsed so residents can be protected should they end up recording any police-resident interaction.
The goal is to create an environment where police are held accountable for their actions without the need for bystander video footage. The goal is also to get police carrying out their duties with a mind free from concern for how their actions will be perceived, so long as those actions are legal, fair, and within the boundaries of their duties.
While this latest incident in Fort Worth remains under review, PCS Bail Bonds hopes we can all focus on improving the relationship between officers and the citizens they’re sworn to protect.
Hopper, B. and Weaver, V., “Charge the Media for Using Police Shooting Videos,” The New Republic web site, April 23, 2015; http://www.newrepublic.com/article/121628/charge-media-using-police-shooting-videos.
Ramirez, D., “Fort Worth Police fatally shoot gunman northeast of downtown,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram web site, April 23, 2015; http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article19208262.html.