Ferguson Police Force Chose Not to Be Accountable
The heat of the conflict in Ferguson has cooled, but my blood is still sizzling.
I learned this last week that the Ferguson police force had the means to prevent everything that transpired there.
They could have avoided the looting and the riots.
Shooting peaceful protesters with rubber bullets? It never would have happened.
Launching tear-gas into crowds? Wouldn’t have come to that.
If the Ferguson police department had just deployed technology they already have, they could have given definitive answers to all the questions raised by the shooting of Michael Brown. And they could have done it fast enough to render their ham-fisted handling of the aftermath completely unnecessary.
What amazing bit of technology could do all that? I’ll tell you in just a moment …
Restoring America’s Police Force
We have a growing problem in America.
Our police force is being militarized. It’s not just the equipment—which is a big issue—but it’s also the mindset.
In many corners of the country, the local law enforcement is on a power trip. It’s as simple as that.
They no longer view themselves as serving the citizens of their community. They view themselves as some sort of Rambo force, bent on flushing out terrorists and dissenters. Not all officers, of course. But certainly officers like the one in Ferguson who was recorded shouting, “Bring it, all you f—ing animals!” into a crowd of protesters. Not looters. Not rioters. People. The very people who he was supposed to protect.
A military has a very specific purpose. To engage and subdue an enemy. A police force’s purpose is different. To serve and protect the communities where they live. These two purposes are mutually exclusive. You can’t embrace one and pretend to uphold the other.
From what I see, the mindset among our police is shifting toward engage and subdue. It’s not good.
But there’s a solution. And it’s been tested and proven incredibly effective.
A Simple Bit of Technology
Makes a Big Difference
Law enforcement officers are different than average citizens. We bestow on them the legal right to use force against other people.
Granting them that power means that they must also be held accountable for how they use it.
In several agencies around the country, officials have made the decision to hold every officer accountable by issuing body cams. The cameras are roughly the size of a pager. They record everything that happens in every exchange between an officer and a citizen – both audio and video.
Privacy advocates – and you know I’m a big supporter of privacy – raise concerns that the cameras are just another way to record the everyday actions of people. But in this case, I think they’re wrong.
For communities that have adopted these cameras, the results have been nothing short of amazing.
Tiny Cameras Yield
Take Rialto, California. In a single year after they began issuing body cameras to police officers, the use of force by police officers fell by 60%. Citizen complaints dropped by 88%!
Those numbers just blow me away. They indicate two major issues.
First, when not being held directly accountable, a police officer is much more likely to turn to force. I get it. It’s a stressful job. But if the simple act of being observed reduces encounters that degrade into force by 60%, that clearly indicates that many police officers resort to force too quickly. It becomes obvious that in many situations another solution is available, but officers don’t work to find it unless they know they’re being watched.
And second, a lot of citizens will complain about police actions to stir up trouble and to gain sympathy. Much of the drop in complaints is surely due to the reduction in the use of force. But some of it is also surely due to citizens being unwilling to contest video evidence that clearly shows they were in the wrong.
Add it all together and police body cameras mean that officers have to do their jobs better. Citizens who don’t feel they were treated fairly have an immediate recourse. Officers who feel they are being falsely accused have protection. It’s a win-win situation for law enforcement agencies and for the communities they serve.
The Ferguson police force has these cameras, but they don’t use them. If Darren Wilson had been wearing one when he encountered Michael Brown, we would have know within 48 hours what, exactly, had happened … if it was a justified shooting or a murder. Even more likely, if Officer Wilson had been wearing such a camera, the situation might never have escalated and Ferguson would never have become a topic for household conversation.
I have a challenge for you today, one that I hope you will gladly accept. I urge you to call your local police agency and ask if they are using police body cameras. If they’re not, write a letter to your police chief and call him to action. Demand that he begin working to equip his officers with body cams.
This simple change will restore our law enforcement agencies to a “serve and protect” mindset and help to put an end to police militarization. Make your voice heard.
P.S. – Eruptions like the one in Ferguson can happen in any city in the United States. Are you ready to deal with a militarized police force storming your streets to put down non-violent protests? You have to be prepared enough to hunker down in your home when the streets are overrun with chaos. Your grocery stores will be looted, and you don’t want to try venturing out looking for food. You need a deep pantry filled with food to survive that scenario. Let me help you remedy that…