The incident of an unarmed black man being shot by a North Charleston South Carolina police officer highlights the need for citizens to record police encounters when possible. In the case of North Charleston, the police officer who shot an unarmed man in the back 4 times has been charged with murder. The police officer gave a description of the encounter that differed from what had been captured on a citizen’s cell phone. The cell phone video enabled the city’s officials to know what had actually happened and charge the police officer with a crime (murder).
North Charleston is a long way from Park City. It’s makeup is very different. It’s crime rates and types are different. Why do we believe Parkites should pick up their cell phones and record our police and sheriff’s deputies when we see them? Because you never know what you may see.
We believe that most people in law enforcement are good people. They have a hard job and generally do it well. But just like clergy members, teachers, and doctors, there are bad police officers. They are also human, like us all, and make mistakes. Just because they are in law enforcement, though, it doesn’t excuse them from those mistakes.
You may be asking, “when in a place like Park City would it ever matter?” That’s a good question. Our thoughts immediately went to that teenage party broken up a couple of years ago when every law enforcement agency this side of the Wasatch showed up to bust underage drinkers. Allegations were made that law enforcement members were physical with some of the kids and they shouted obscenities. If that was all recorded, it would make it easy to know the truth.
You may then ask, “well aren’t most police forces using body cameras?” That seems to be the standard answer to this type of problem. The issue with that is two-fold. First, the officer is in charge of turning on or off the camera. It doesn’t run all the time. There isn’t the battery or storage available to make that work. So, while an officer may be reprimanded for not having his or her camera on, its not going to provide evidence of what happened, if it’s off. Second, the video taken by police will be in police hands. Again, in most cases that may be OK but we don’t want to have to rely on the organization responsible for the officer to choose what and when to disseminate information.
We firmly believe citizens have an opportunity to ensure that our law enforcement agencies are acting appropriately. One of our most powerful tools is the camera and almost everyone has one included in their phone. We have the power to not only record what is happening but also influence what WILL happen … because funny things (usually for the good) happen when a person thinks they are being watched.
Of course, this isn’t a call to interfere with police business or not follow orders given by law enforcement. That could not only endanger your life, but an officer’s as well. So, be smart and remember most people are good.
While the incident in South Carolina was tragic, it does provide a lesson of what normal citizens can do and how they can make a difference in their community. That morning in North Charleston, when citizen Feidin Santana pulled out his cell phone and started recording the police, he probably had no idea what he had done. In the end, what he had done was help ensure justice could be served for a dead man, shot in the back by police, who could no longer speak for himself.