Howvideo is revolutionising policing
Footage from smartphones and police body cameras is increasingly shaping the outcomes of trials, as seen in the case against Derek Chauvin, Nick Allen writes.
The day after George Floyd died the Minneapolis Police Department put out a statement. It was headlined: ‘‘Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction’’.
A six paragraph account described how officers had responded to a ‘‘forgery in progress’’ – Floyd was accused of using a fake $20 bill to buy cigarettes – and the suspect ‘‘physically resisted’’.
According to this official account: ‘‘Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. At no time were weapons used. No officers were injured.’’
And that would have been that.
Derek Chauvin would still be a police officer. No worldwide protests. No racial reckoning for America.
Things turned out differently because a 17-year-old girl armed with a smartphone, Darnella Frazier, videoed what really happened and uploaded it to Facebook.
Before long it was being shared on social media around the globe. The court of public opinion quickly made up its mind. A jury convicted Chauvin. Joe Biden praised the ‘‘brave young woman with a smartphone.’’
Floyd was one of around 1000 US citizens who died during interactions with US police last year.
The question now being asked is how many of those deaths have been similarly misrepresented? Many, particularly black, Americans have lost faith in official accounts.
As a result, pulling out a smartphone to film, or even livestream, has now become an automatic reaction when citizens interact with police.
For police reformists more video has become a clarion call.
They want a legacy of George Floyd to be universal use of police body cameras.
The ultimate goal is to have every police-citizen interaction filmed by an officer body camera, or one fixed to their car, and to have all that unedited footage quickly released to the public.
In some instances ‘‘having it all on film’’ can be beneficial to police departments themselves.
Around the time Chauvin was convicted on Wednesday, a black 16-year-old girl, Ma’khia Bryant, was shot dead by a police officer on a suburban street in Columbus, Ohio.
Social media erupted. It was another racist police killing, some declared.
Almost instantaneously police released body camera footage. It showed the teenager about to stab another girl with a knife.
The incident still has to be fully investigated, but the quick release of the video may have prevented potentially violent demonstrations.
Over the last four years Congress has diverted US$112 million (NZ$155 million) to many of the US’S 18,000 police forces to equip them with body cameras.
Since Floyd’s death states including New York, Colorado and Connecticut have ordered that all officers wear cameras on patrol.
In Washington DC the Democrat mayor Muriel Bowser signed an emergency resolution that body camera footage of all fatal, or excessive force, incidents be released to the public within five days.
The police union went to court to block the order, but the court backed the mayor.
Ultimately, this inevitable march toward the filming of police will have amyriad of consequences, some unintended.
Releasing video immediately, rather than months later during a court case, may spark riots in the heat of the moment.
It might also encourage incidents of ‘‘suicide by cop’’ by individuals seeking social media fame.
However, legal experts say it could also eliminate the need for lengthy trials of police officers.
‘‘If I was the prosecutor [in the George Floyd case] I would have played the video, and I would have sat down,’’ said Joe Bodiford, a law professor at Stetson University in Florida.
‘‘It eliminated the, ‘They said, we said – civilians said this, law enforcement said that’. All that was taken away.
‘‘That’s why body cameras are becoming so important. The technology has really made it clear.’’