Moderated by Rick Badie
Count the Marietta Police Department as our region’s latest agency to implement body-worn cameras among its ranks. Today, in our lead column, a lieutenant explains the move to the device. The companion essay, written by a college professor, reminds us that good cops exist — despite headlines of late. A third column notes Atlanta’s contributions to training criminal justice officials overseas.
Police body cameras: The view from Marietta
By Steve Campisi
Last month, the Marietta Police Department, with the support of the mayor and City Council, finalized its decision to add body-worn cameras to its list of technological tools. Like many agencies using or considering the use of the cameras, the decision was based on multiple factors that include increasing officer safety, evidence collection, agency transparency and community relations.
Prior to this decision, Chief Dan Flynn and other personnel discussed the cameras with officers, prosecutors and members of the community, including pastors that participated in the department’s Pastors Academy. The majority support their use.
The Marietta police strives to be a leader in community-oriented policing as reflected earlier this year. President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recognized our agency as one of three outstanding examples of police-community relations.
Th department recognizes a need to not only educate its personnel on body-worn cameras, but also have open conversations with prosecutors and the community as to the realities of the cameras. There is an old saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Everyone needs to be mindful a complete account of actions cannot be told from a picture or video clip. Anyone who believes cameras will become the “solve all” in police-citizen contacts will never be totally satisfied with their use. It is the responsibility of any investigator — criminal, administrative, civil and news media — to always be fact-finders and never rush to judgment. Video will always be of great assistance to any investigation, but it can never be considered the final determinant of a person’s actions.
This is especially true in high-stress incidences such as when an officer uses force against a person, including officer-involved shootings. Psychological studies have been conducted on how the human brain processes stress and impacts the perception of an event at that moment. In law enforcement, a commonly used term to describe this event is “tunnel vision,” a narrowing of peripheral vision when focusing on a specific object.
Officers commonly rely on all their senses including smell, touch and hearing when deciding to use force. Officers also rely on their education, training and experience. All of these senses and factors will never be portrayed accurately in an image from an electronic device. During these high-stress moments, a camera will depict a wider range of view than the human eye can capture.
In addition, everyone should be mindful of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Graham v. Connor (1989) as it relates to law enforcement’s use of force, also known as the Graham Standard. The court stated “the “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.
The Marietta Police Department is excited about this new technology, as it is proving within the law enforcement profession to be a beneficial tool. We are researching multiple body-worn camera products to ensure the procurement of the best product that will not only meet the needs of our agency, but allow us to be fiscally responsible to Marietta taxpayers.
Our goal is to have body-worn cameras in service by the end of the year. The department remains committed to providing world-class service to the community it serves while doing so in the most effective and efficient manner possible.
Steve Campisi is a lieutenant with the Marietta Police Department.
Honest, brave cops on the job
By Anthony Hatcher
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed May 15 to be National Peace Officers Memorial Day.
At the beginning of this year’s National Police Week, which honors the memory of officers who died in the line of duty, two policemen were killed in Mississippi, reminding us yet again just how dangerous the job can be.
The current national discussion about law enforcement is understandably focused on race, particularly the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police. It’s a topic that can’t be ignored, even as we honor slain officers.
Blacks and whites are skeptical of police investigating their own. According to a recent Pew/USA Today poll, 70 percent of blacks say police departments do a poor job holding officers accountable for misconduct. While just 27 percent of whites agree with this assessment, only 37 percent of whites say police do an excellent or good job in self-investigations.
There is unmistakably heightened tension between cops and the public they serve.
I have a yellowed page I tore decades ago from a 1970s-era “True Detective” magazine when I was considering law enforcement as a career. A silhouette of a uniformed policeman is framed between two New York City police badges.
At the top of the page are the words, “A Policeman…” Below are phrases such as, “must keep cool in a crisis like a surgeon,” and “must know the law, like an attorney.” The longest one reads, “does not flinch before the stares of the hostile, the bricks and bottles of the alienated, or the knives of the demented.”
After police, along with firefighters, ran into the Pentagon and Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, as panicked workers ran out, cops were our heroes. When incidents of police abuse surface, they are justifiably condemned.
And in an era of ubiquitous cameras, police are often caught using excessive force. The New York Civil Liberties Union has developed an app called “Stop and Frisk Watch” that uploads video to the NYCLU in case police seize your phone and erase its content.
Amateur photographers using phones can get their fuzzy images on the cover of Time Magazine or in the newspaper, and the immediacy of video distributed via Twitter can inflame the public before internal investigations even get off the ground.
Police body cameras are useful tools that can help determine what happened in an incident. These official videos should be released to the public as soon as possible.
A danger of immediate release of such videos, and especially of videos uploaded by bystanders, is that they are context-free. Police who use force to restrain a suspect may be abusive, or they may be saving a life, even that of the suspect.
Sadly, many incidents of police abuse are just that – abuse.
Recent events in Baltimore, Ferguson, New York or wherever an unarmed black man has died in police custody remind me of something I learned long ago when I was on the police beat: There is nobody better than a good cop. There is nobody worse than a bad cop.
Mark Twain said it best in 1905: “Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it.”
The police job description is to face pain, insults and bullets. In 2013, the FBI reported nearly 50,000 officers were assaulted on the job, and 76 were killed.
At the same time, one police transgression is one too many. But as this year’s commemorations fade, it’s worth remembering the vast majority of law enforcement officers are honest and brave.
Cops can represent the best of us when dealing with the worst of us.
Anthony Hatcher is an associate professor of communications at Elon University.
Building rule of law overseas
By William R. Brownfield
It is an unusual year when I do not come to Atlanta to visit family and friends. But this week, for the first time, I am here to conduct a diplomatic mission as U.S. assistant secretary of state for drugs and law enforcement. One might ask why.
The answer is that drugs, law enforcement and rule of law are not just issues managed between national governments; their impact reaches every house, street and community in the country. When our programs or operations disrupt a criminal trafficking organization overseas, then drugs, firearms or slave labor do not reach the United States.
When police in Central America decommission a criminal gang, they dry up the personnel and support pipeline to counterpart gangs in Atlanta. When justice systems are transparent and honest in their home countries, fewer people join the tide of undocumented migrants fleeing chaos, violence and poverty to the United States.
We have learned state and local law enforcement and criminal justice institutions are perfect partners for building rule of law overseas. The federal government’s public defender’s office does not typically defend against crimes like domestic abuse. Atlanta’s does, and they are one of the best in the nation. I am here in town to sign a first-of-its-kind agreement with the Atlanta Public Defenders’ Office, to draw upon their skills and experience in training defenders overseas.
Federal law enforcement is not responsible for crowd control, domestic violence or traffic management. The Atlanta Police Department is, and I will deepen our agreement with the APD on my visit. The State Department has more than 80 of these state and local partnerships throughout the country; three are with Georgia institutions.
Everyone wins with these partnerships: foreign governments can access Atlanta’s skill sets and experience; Atlanta develops operational relationships with key foreign institutions that affect its own neighborhoods, and we all get a safer America. How much will this partnership cost Atlanta? Nothing. We reimburse all costs.
Across America, we have seen the cost to communities when governance abroad fails. Earlier this year, President Barack Obama announced a new initiative to build security, good governance and prosperity in Central America. It’s a response to the migration crisis last summer when tens of thousands of Central Americans, many of them unaccompanied children, attempted to enter the United States at our Southwest border.
While controls at our own border must be strengthened, this new initiative addresses the root causes that push people to risk their lives and families on a dangerous trip north.
I trust the Atlanta Public Defender’s Office will bring its expertise to defenders in Central America. I expect Atlanta police will continue to train Central American police on how to deal with hate crimes. And I hope the Georgia Administrative Office of the Courts will lend its skills to help judges in Central America fairly and impartially adjudicate cases.
Atlanta should be proud of the overseas work of its criminal justice institutions. They are building stronger rule-of-law institutions in foreign countries. They are also combating organized crime and illicit migration, before they reach the streets of Atlanta. What we do over there really does protect us here at home.
William R. Brownfield is U.S. assistant secretary of state for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs.