Candid Camera: Why Capturing Bad Cops Isn’t Good Enough

Am I the only one wishing that the army of smartphone video warriors could do MORE in the cause of justice than simply recording police arrests?

Lately, there’s been a spate of police arrest videos cropping up all over social media. The videos – like the recent one showing New York City police officers placing Staten Island resident Eric Garner in a chokehold – are a great tool for holding law enforcers accountable and documenting instances of potentially excessive force. Eric Garner NYPD Chokehold

Garner died following his arrest. It would be a very good result if the mobile phone video can help investigators prove where police crossed the line or did little to help in the immediate moments afterward.

Since George Holliday videotaped LAPD officers mercilessly beating Rodney King in 1991, ordinary citizens armed with their camcorders and now smartphones have been on the front lines keeping police honest by documenting their arrest procedures. Let’s applaud the videographers who continued that tradition and recorded the Garner incident and others.

But, let’s not stop there; that’s insufficient.

Here’s the concern: Where are these ubiquitous smartphones hiding when the other more than three-quarters of non-police committed offenses are taking place? Let’s be brutally honest: Even at their worst and most aggressive, police aren’t committing anywhere near a fraction of the murders, rapes, shootings, stabbings, drug sales or other criminal wrongdoings that rampantly brutalize and woefully destabilize our communities.

It would seem the same folks who readily have their Samsungs or iPhones handy whenever five-oh slams a man to the pavement also could have them around when – say – they spot a street corner drug dealer slipping heroin into some kid’s hand. Or, maybe the next time they witness a suspect fleeing a crime scene, one of these video-activists might click the record button, then share their video with police and on social media. Wouldn’t that be just as helpful in the cause of justice and social order as videoing cops gone wild?

Let’s go on record and say, “Yes.”

In big cities across the Nation, FBI stats show violent crime solve rates bogged down in the 40 percent range. Many crimes go unpunished because witnesses fail to come forward leaving offenders to run free.

Enough times, crimes happen in the light of day with onlookers nearby; yet mysteriously no one sees anything. Conveniently – more like inconveniently – not one phone is around to record a thing that might lead to an arrest and a conviction.

Understandably, some citizens feel powerless and afraid of retaliation. In a twisted flip of law and order, they’re caught between community thugs whom they fear because they terrorize neighborhoods and police whom they mistrust because they occasionally behave like thugs themselves. The result is a vacuum of inactivity that leaves criminals out on the streets and communities and police powerless.

In some ways, capturing the cops on video while they capture alleged criminals has become the citizens’ way of reclaiming power. Catching a cop red-handed is a sort of leveling of the playing field; potentially it can lead to justice and it’s relatively safe too (it’s unlikely the police will retaliate by gunning you down later in a drive-by).

Still, is justice really just if it lacks balance? How much different are people who only record police misdeeds from cops who only pull over speeding motorists of color? Whether your authority comes from a smartphone or a badge, profiling by any other name remains profiling and the job remains half done, the mission incomplete.

Let’s not stop catching cops, but how about catching a few more bona fide bad guys too.

Eric Garner’s family deserves justice. Likewise, every other crime victim does as well. Smartphone video may bring Garner’s survivors closer to a legal resolution. It also could help so many other crime victims if video activists bring the same passion to capturing criminals as they do to capturing the police. 

Face it, aiming your camera at the cops, but not the criminals, doesn’t make you some sort of crusader for justice, it simply makes you another guy with a phone.

-Jonathan Clarke, July 31, 2014

© Copyright 2014 Jonathan Clarke, All rights reserved


4 thoughts on “Candid Camera: Why Capturing Bad Cops Isn’t Good Enough

  1. I was lead to this post by a friend who happens to be a cop. Did you bother to do a simple search on google for “criminal caught on video cellphone” or any other number of combination of similar words? Because if not, then this post simply sounds like a you’re a detractor of citizens catching bad behavior by cops; which makes you sound like an apologist for cops.

    There have been many cases where cellphone video has been used to assist in bringing a criminal to justice. They are just not as widely publicized in the news as those of police misconduct. Just like it is more of an afront to the police, and society for that matter, when a cop is shot, police misconduct is more of an afront to society because police are supposed to uphold the law. By the way, misconduct should also be more of an a front to good cops because it simply gives good cops a bad name.

    Law enforcement does encourage witnesses with mobile video to come forth, and to use their devices to capture a crime or accident, but never at the expense of your own safety.


  2. This article is such BS, because there are so many law enforcers that overstep the boundries of the and they take care of their own so there is no one who will hold them accountable for their crimes against the citizens they are sworn to protect. Mosy citizens know that without video, the crimes that pplice commit against honest citizens go unpunished. I agree that citizens arent doing their part to police their own communities, but more and more officers are using extreme force and lethal tactics on offenders of non victimless crimes. What do you suggest they do when the forces sworn to protect become as corrupt as the offenders they should be pursuing???


  3. Police offices took an oath to protect and serve thats is there profession.I did not going to throw my life away to snap a pick of a neighborhood drug dealer to be shot in the process.And they will,what is the benefit of that.the article is incomplete because of that.Am I to be some kind of martyr?no thanks. The article states people are scared,for good reason.I would not not my children out there being vigilantes.But if you wanna stop by and snap some pics of some dealings going down give me a call ill show you where they hang out and well see how that turns out.dont forget to leave your gun and bagde at home.what good for the goose is good for the gander.And as far as eric goes we all know he was selling cigarettes or the police would not have bothered him but the excessive forced used to subdue was just that,excessive.Then the unremorseful response we all saw on camera was just a shame,you just killed a human being for selling cigarettes and resisting arrest and you smile and wave at the camera,classy.what if it was your love one that was just killed that way and no one even tried to save them.I dont know what could have been done to make that situation end well but its not my profession.But really no one even tried to save him.


  4. I love the line that says “the number of crimes committed by police is still far fewer than the general population”….You guys commit more crimes PER CAPITA than the general populace. If you extrapolate the numbers, Cops commit more crimes than the rest of the civilians they are sworn to PROTECT AND SERVE.


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