Monday, December 12, 2011

COPS AND CAMERAS IN CoMo: A marriage for better -- and worse

A Columbia police sergeant discusses public perception vs. police reality

COLUMBIA, 12/12/11  (Interview) -- The signs were obvious 20 years ago, with cameras documenting LA's infamous Rodney King beating and OJ Simpson's equally infamous SUV freeway chase.  Cameras -- and cops -- were getting engaged. 
 
Today, police officers and the cameras that film them are an aging married couple, with cell phones, patrol car cameras, digital video recorders, and citizens for justice recording nearly every law enforcement move. 
 
"This is a real adjustment for many officers," Columbia Police Department Sergeant Jill (Wieneke) Schlude (above left) told the Columbia Heart Beat.  "When I became a police officer in 1999, I didn't have a camera in my patrol car and cell phones only made calls.  The next generation of officers will be one of the first to spend their entire career almost constantly recorded." 
 
The scrutiny is both good and bad, Schlude explained, articulating technology's double-edged sword. 
 
"I think we have to be careful to use video to expose the bad and change it. 
But also in equal measure, to celebrate the good and encourage it."  
 
"The use of video is ultimately good and will hopefully lead to decreased complaints and reduced incidents of excessive force, as well as provide more transparency and increase public trust," she said.  "But any officer who has been involved in the uglier part of policing and has had to use force completely lawfully and properly will tell you that public opinion and perception can be a heavy weight -- even when you know you were doing the right thing -- even when the Chief says you did the right thing."
 
The daily scrutiny starts with a rattling reality:  being on camera all day in a job filled with stressful and unpredictable situations.  "It doesn't feel great," Schlude said.  "It is worse for police officers because inevitably it means someone will be second guessing and scrutinizing every detail of what they do and say, and sometimes twisting or editing it to fit an agenda." 
 
An often-misguided discourse can follow the scrutiny, much of it coming from people
who have had repeated run ins with law enforcement or extensive criminal records. 
 
But it's not the scrutiny that takes the long-term toll, she emphasized.  It's the often-misguided discourse that follows, much of it coming from people who have had repeated run ins with law enforcement officers or extensive criminal records. 
 
"Imagine you are a truly good police officer," Schlude said.  "How must it feel to be called everything from a fascist to a racist to a thug just for doing your job and protecting yourself and the people you are sworn to keep out of harm's way.  Imagine hearing it for 20 or more years.
 
"I think we have to be careful to use video to expose the bad and change it," she added.  "But also in equal measure, to celebrate the good and encourage it." 

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1 comment:

  1. "[I]t's not the scrutiny that takes the long-term toll [...]. It's the often-misguided discourse that follows." I couldn't have said it better myself.

    The use of the word "cameras" in the headline caught my attention here; and, Mr. Martin's paraphrasing of Sergeant Wieneke-Schlude's comments about the long-term consequences of police surveillance leads to claims that are equally appropriate for questioning the use of cameras (and other recording devices) by law enforcement.

    Remember the "gangs" and "graffiti" discourse utilized in the attempt to justify the installation of surveillance cameras downtown? Remember? What images were being portrayed, and what were the messages sent when making arguments in favor of their installation?

    Surely we have seen or heard about the campaigns to support and remove Police Chief Burton. Is this not an example of the ability of those "scrutinizing" the police to celebrate the good?

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