Use Your Power Wisely

Time for another rant! Some of you may not realize it but Ol’ Bullethead is moving in a general direction. It may be hard to pick up because, when I get a good question, I like to toss that around and give a good answer. Other months, I might just go it alone. I’m trying to move us in a direction I think is good for us and for those we serve.

A few months back, I wrote a column about change and the importance of becoming experts at our job. Last month, I wrote about the need for ethical leadership and how we’re all leaders in the community and among ourselves as soon as we put our uniforms on. If you go back to the bottom of the Bullethead ammo crate, you’ll find articles about police work being a job for thinking men and women and not knuckle draggers.

Today, I woke up in a pleasant mood. Then my Crackberry exploded. That’s typical, but today one of my many spies sent me an article about cops arresting people for videotaping them while on duty and in public. This particular spy didn’t think the cops should arrest for that. He was exactly right.

I could write volumes on why this is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard, but I’ll just touch on the high points. We’re public servants entrusted with awesome power. We have the power to use force, even lethal force. We have the power to take away freedom. We’re allowed to kick down doors in the middle of the night and rush into people’s homes with machine guns. Maybe you non-thinkers don’t realize that all of these things, although necessary when used correctly, are also the things we’ve fought to defend against in every war we’ve ever fought. Don’t think so? Go study some history. You’ll find we were either protecting ourselves or someone else from the very things that police are allowed and expected to do when crooks cross the lines drawn by our society.

When we swear to uphold the Constitution, it’s the whole thing, not just the parts we like. Any cop who whines about the Bill of Rights standing in the way of making arrests should have their door kicked in by masked officers in the middle of the night. How would they like to get beaten until they confess to something? Or jailed without a fair trial? That’s right boys and girls, Ol’ Bullethead just hit a bunch of them—4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and the 14th amendments for good measure. My point: We must operate from within these laws. When we do, why wouldn’t we want it on video?

I wonder if the morons abusing their own laws against wiretapping have thought about dash cams and belt recorders. Maybe they don’t have those in the three states currently going after people for recording the cops (i.e., Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts), but I’ll bet they do. They’ll say its OK because they’re conducting a criminal investigation. Fair enough, but what about consensual encounters? Oops—didn’t think about that, did you? A consensual encounter isn’t a criminal investigation until we have enough reasonable suspicion to detain someone. If you’re a cop in one of those three states, you’d better not activate your recorder until you have a detention or you might just have to arrest yourself and get a hook that way. Those doing this are claiming both parties must consent or the video and audio is illegal.

What about traffic cameras, license plate readers, helicopter videos and all the other tools police use? Hmm, I guess they didn’t think of that either. Most of those red-light cameras are rolling video, and they snap a still when someone runs the light. Dash cams are rolling all the time and save when activated. The video is usually recoverable, and all sorts of people are getting recorded without consent and without a criminal investigation. How about store surveillance? Are we gonna arrest the store if they catch a cop doing something wrong? Like I said, I could do volumes on this.

What really gets my powder hot is the lack of ethical leadership in the agencies practicing this crap. Good police leaders understand we operate with the consent of the people. We have civilian oversight from elected officials and the courts, but we’re also responsible to the people. Much of what we do is, as the cliché goes, lawful but awful. There’s no nice way to beat someone into cuffs. Welcome it on tape, and go explain it in court. Then we get a more educated public, and we’re transparent to those we serve.    

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