November 10, 2009
Citizen videos help the police do their job
Videos of police incidents are helpful to the police, right? They can help solve crime because they preserve an accurate record of who did what to whom, they can help in determining whether and when a crime occurred, and they can obviously be of great assistance in identifying criminals. So it seems to be almost a no-brainer that the police should welcome them.
It may sound counterintuitive, but two unrelated incidents -- one here in Ann Arbor and another in Detroit -- lend credence to an idea I have seen expressed before -- that police do not like video cameras.
In Ann Arbor, a 19 year old driver was beaten so badly by a mob that he required hospitalization. The incident was witnessed by University of Michigan students, one of whom captured it on video on his digital camera. Unfortunately, he made the mistake of giving the memory card to the police, who now say that they lost it:
LSA seniors Brian Barton and Zachary Ward said they took pictures of brutal beating on Barton's digital camera shortly before the attack, then a video once it began. After giving a statement to AAPD, Barton said he handed over his memory stick to be used as possible evidence.It certainly makes it easier not to do anything, and I suspect that had the attackers targeted a police car, that memory stick would have been preserved more carefully. Obviously, this is speculation on my part, but I think there is a lesson here.
If you are lucky enough to have a camera on hand and capture an incident like this, don't just give the memory stick to the police. You do not have to -- and you can always provide it later if there's a subpoena, and if the officer insists on having it, tell him to get a warrant. That will at least guarantee a paper trail. In this incident, even though there are now numerous accounts (including an MSNBC version), and a police spokesperson has taken charge of the official fudging, it still isn't clear who lost the memory card, or how. I'm amazed at how little is known about this incident; the reports are not even clear on whether the victim or his many attackers were students.
I know it will sound cynical, but a part of me suspects that someone did not want the video to ever see the light of day.
In Detroit, OTOH, a very different situation was presented. Sean Harrington, the owner of a very popular local destination spot called the Town Pump Tavern, caught an employee stealing, and called the cops for help. But instead of arresting the employee, the cops arrested the owner, Harrington. Apparently, the employee stated that Harrington hit him and he pulled a knife in self defense. Harrington says he never struck him, that the video confirmed this, and that the police refused to view the video. Instead (claims Harrington), Detroit police subjected him to 24 hours of what might be called "street justice":
If the tape truly tells the tale, Sean Harrington may have argued with an employee, but he never struck him.I'd like to see precisely what "book" it is they're talking about. Remember, Detroit is a city where police are known for not coming at all when you call them, are barely able to prosecute most murders, and burglaries have become "low priority" crimes.
Back to the incident at the Town Pump Tavern:
Both sides agree that Harrington confronted Aric Walden, who he suspected of stealing food. According to a police report the Free Press reviewed, Walden said he "borrowed" two eggs. Harrington said he yelled at, then fired, Walden.Well, it certainly doesn't inspire me to open a business in Detroit, or expect to have any confidence in calling the police if I had a problem.
Sure, it's possible that Harrington is making all of this up, but what about the video? If it vindicates him, that would seem to raise basic questions about whose side the police are on ("priorities"?) -- something unpleasant to contemplate, but which might explain why the police would refuse even to take a look at the video before arresting the owner of a thriving business which directly contributes to the economic benefit to a city which is for the most part dying and hopeless. But again, this is speculation on my part.
Might the simpler explanation be that police just do not like videos?
Maybe, except that isn't an explanation.
CORRECTION: Earlier, I incorrectly stated that the driver was dragged from his car and beaten by the mob, when he got out of the car first, and was then beaten. Error corrected.
posted by Eric on 11.10.09 at 11:43 AM
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