Police Reform Workgroup Recommendations Issued 

The General Assembly’s Workgroup on Public Safety and Policing Issued its recommendations yesterday, just in time for the start of the legislative session tomorrow. This Post article has a good summary of the situation and some reactions.

A Maryland legislative panel on Monday offered sweeping changes in police policies, including giving officers periodic psychological evaluations and allowing the public to attend police trial boards.

Under the proposed changes, residents would also be given more time to file brutality complaints.

The Public Safety and Policing Work Group voted to submit 21 recommendations to Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) for the General Assembly to consider. It spent the past six months reviewing police practices and devising ways to improve police-community relations.

Here’s the full list of recommendations:

Workgroup on Public Safety and Policing
January 11, 2016

RECOMMENDATION NO. 1: The LEOBR complaint filing deadline triggering the requirement that disciplinary action be undertaken by a law enforcement agency shall be extended from 90 days to a year and a day.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 2: The requirement for notarization of a complaint alleging excessive force shall be eliminated, and replaced with a requirement that a complaint be signed by the complainant under the penalty of perjury.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 3: The public complaint process in each jurisdiction shall be uniform throughout the State, streamlined, and publicized on department websites. A complainant shall be required to divulge their identity in a manner that is sufficient for a department to contact them and verify the legitimacy of the complaint. When there is a final disposition of a complaint, the complainant shall be informed of the outcome.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 4: The time period for retaining an attorney for the internal investigation and disciplinary process under LEOBR shall be reduced from 10 days to 5 days.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 5: As is the case in some jurisdictions, all law enforcement agencies in the State shall open their administrative LEOBR hearing board proceedings to the public. The General Assembly shall strike the statutory prohibition against citizen participation to allow a jurisdiction to permit a citizen who has received training in LEOBR to sit as a member of the administrative hearing board.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 6: The law shall be changed to ensure that whistleblower protections are given to protect from retaliation officers who participate in investigations or who raise issues for investigation.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 7: Each law enforcement agency shall require a use of force/incident report to be completed by the end of the shift unless the officer is disabled.

RECOMMENDATION 8: Official department policies and collective bargaining agreements are public documents but are not easily available to the public. All department policies and collective bargaining agreements shall be available online.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 9: The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is primarily responsible for the administration of State prisons and correctional services with few law enforcement trained personnel or sworn law enforcement officers in the Department. Law enforcement training and standards are significantly different from that of the State correctional system. An independent Maryland Police Training and Standards Commission (MPTSC) shall be established to focus solely on best practices, standards, and training in law enforcement and to create uniformity in policing practices across the State.

RECOMMENDATION 10: The independent MPTSC shall include: representatives of State and local government; representatives of State and local law enforcement administrators; representatives of State and local law enforcement personnel; a representative of the Fraternal Order of Police; a representative of local State’s Attorneys; legislative members; members with expertise in community policing, policing standards, and mental health; and citizen members without relationships to law enforcement.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 11: The Commission shall require each law enforcement agency to establish a confidential and non-punitive early intervention policy for dealing with officers who receive three or more citizen complaints within a 12 month period. (Such a policy may not prevent the investigation of or imposition of discipline for a particular complaint.)

RECOMMENDATION NO. 12: The MPTSC shall develop and require in-service anti-discrimination and use of force de-escalation training every other year for all law enforcement officers.

RECOMMENDATION NO. 13 The MPTSC shall evaluate and modernize recruitment standards and practices to increase diversity in law enforcement departments and shall develop media strategies for recruiting women, African American, Latino, and other minority candidates.

RECOMMENDATION 14: The MPTSC shall develop a State certification that is transferrable between departments.

RECOMMENDATION 15: The MPTSC shall develop and require annual reporting to the Commission by each department on the number of serious officer involved incidents, the number of officers disciplined, and the type of discipline that was administered.

RECOMMENDATION 16: The Workgroup recommends that the MPTSC review the National Institute of Justice example use of force continuum and develop by regulation a set of best practices and standards for use of force.

RECOMMENDATION 17: The MPTSC shall develop standards for mandated psychological evaluation after traumatic incidents and for law enforcement officers returning from combat deployment as well as periodic psychological evaluations for all officers as determined appropriate by the Commission. The MPTSC shall also amend the Code of Maryland Regulations to require that an applicant for police officer undergo a pre-employment psychological evaluation by a psychologist.

RECOMMENDATION 18: The MPTSC, in consultation with DHMH, shall establish a confidential hotline that is available for law enforcement personnel to contact to speak to a trained peer law enforcement officer or a mental health professional who can assist with initial counseling advice and confidential referral to appropriate programs as needed.

RECOMMENDATION 19: The MPTSC shall develop a Police Complaint Mediation Program in which certain non-violent complaints made against police officers are referred out of the standard complaint process and to voluntary mediation to be conducted by an independent mediation service.

RECOMMENDATION 20: The MPTSC shall develop best practices for establishment and implementation of a Community Policing Program in each jurisdiction. Annually, each department shall file their community policing program with the MPTSC and the Commission shall review each program and offer comments to the jurisdiction. All community policing programs shall be posted online.

RECOMMENDATION 21: State grants and funding shall be increased to provide matching funds for local jurisdictions to increase community law enforcement programs such as the Police Athletic Leagues (PALs), the Explorers Program, and similar recreational activities. The MPTSC and GOOCP shall also provide technical assistance to departments in applying for any federal, State or foundation grants available for these purposes.

RECOMMENDATION 22: Incentives shall be provided by the State and local jurisdictions to encourage law enforcement officers to live in the communities in which they police, particularly in high crime, high poverty areas. These incentives shall include measures like take home patrol cars, property tax credits, renter’s tax credits, and State and local income tax deductions for officers who live in the jurisdiction in which they work.

RECOMMENDATION 23: The LEOBR shall be amended to require that for use of force incidents, the trial board shall be composed of one member selected by the Chief or Sheriff, one member selected by the FOP/affected employee, and one member who is mutually agreed upon. The members must be selected from a pool of police officers who are not from the affected officer’s jurisdiction. One member must be of equal rank to the affected employee. A collective bargaining agreement may specify a different method of choosing a trial board.

The issuance of the report prompted a reaction from the Maryland Coalition for Justice & Police Accountability:

The coalition recognizes the positive votes today by the Maryland Public Safety and Policing Workgroup, which are an important start to allow for increased civilian participation in misconduct investigations, more transparency for the community and victims, and more robust training. We appreciate the time and effort put in by the workgroup. Nonetheless, there remain important areas that need improvement to ensure real accountability, especially in communities targeted by racially biased over-policing. Reforms that are still needed include lifting the restriction on who can file a police brutality complaint, lifting the restriction that only sworn law enforcement personnel may investigate complaints, and requiring that complainants identify themselves. In addition, we are concerned about a last-minute addition to the recommendations that would change the composition of the trial board to give the FOP a greater role in the discipline process.

Sounds about right to me. The preliminaries are over – the heavy lifting starts tomorrow. 

No Tamir Rice Indictment

Bet you’re shocked by this news.

After more than a year of investigation, a Cleveland grand jury declined to bring charges against either of the two police officers involved in the November 2014 shooting of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was playing with a toy weapon in a park.

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty announced the decision Monday afternoon, adding that he did not recommend that grand jury bringing charges and that he believes both of the Cleveland police officers involved were reasonable in their belief that Rice had a real weapon.

Let’s remember Maryland Scramble’s first rule of grand juries: what the prosecutor wants, the prosecutor gets. Only the prosecutor presents evidence. There’s no cross-examination, defense lawyers aren’t even allowed in the room.

The better question is: why didn’t the prosecutor want to indict this particular ham sandwich?

Two police officers, 26-year-old Timothy Loehmann and 46-year-old Frank Garmback, responded after receiving a police dispatch call “of a male black sitting on a swing and pointing a gun at people” in a city park. A caller reported that a male was pointing “a pistol” at random people in the Cudell Recreation Center. At the beginning of the call and again in the middle he says of the pistol “it’s probably fake.” Toward the end of the two-minute call, the caller stated “he is probably a juvenile.” However, this information was not relayed to Loehmann or Garmback on the initial dispatch. The officers reported that upon their arrival, Rice reached towards a gun in his waistband. Loehmann fired two shots before the zone car came to a halt and within two seconds of arriving on the scene, hitting Rice once in the torso. Neither officer administered any first aid to Rice after the shooting. He died on the following day.

The officer fired two shots before GETTING OUT OF THE CAR. That’s not a “perfect storm of humsn error,” as the Post quotes Timothy McGinty, but an execution of a black child by an out of control police officer. All you have to do is imagine what would have happened if Tamir Rice had been a white kid in the suburbs. First off it wouldn’t have happened, but if it did, there’d damn well be a ham sandwich indicted by now.

Until black lives matter more than they do now, any claim that “all lives matter” is nothing but a dodge or a defense for police vigilantism against minority communities. It’s not one thing that needs to change in the criminal justice system, it’s everything.

The Most Important Veto Override

In 16 days, the General Assembly goes back to work. There will be many story lines, not least of which seeing how things go for the five officeholders who are running for Congress in CD4 and CD8. But the first order of business for the legislature will be the prospect of whether to override Governor Larry Hogan’s four vetoes. There are strategic considerations to discuss, and there is the not so far away anymore 2018 election to think about, but today I want to focus on one of the bills that Hogan vetoed, HB980, that would have restored voting rights to approximately 43,000 individuals with felony convictions when they get out of jail. Current law delays such voting rights until the individual completes parole or probation, a process which can take many years to complete.

The lead sponsor of this bill is my friend Delegate Cory McCray of Baltimore. He has established a Facebook page, Marylanders for Voting Rights, which can be found here. A number of folks have done videos calling for the Hogan veto to be overridden. Here’s a few.

Author Wes Moore:

Author Kevin Shird:

Community activist Eric Booker:

Cory has developed a very nice map showing where the likely beneficiaries of this law reside. Baltimore City has by far the most citizens returning from felony incarceration. Big shocker, I know. I bet Larry Hogan knows that, too, wink, wink. 

The final vote on this bill in the House was 82-57. 85 votes (60%) are required to override a veto. 81 Democrats voted yes. Speaker Mike Busch needs to find four votes. One of those votes will almost assuredly come from new Delegate Susie Proctor, whose late husband Jim Proctor missed the vote last year. That leaves three votes. Delegate Michael Jackson of Prince George’s County did not vote on the bill last year. That could be a second vote. Busch then would need to find two votes from among the eight delegates listed below who voted no on the bill in 2015.

Charlie Barkley (Montgomery)
Pam Beidle (Anne Arundel)
Eric Bromwell (Baltimore County)
Ned Carey (Anne Arundel)
Mark Chang (Anne Arundel)
Mary Ann Lisanti (Harford)
Ted Sophocleus (Anne Arundel)
C.T. Wilson (Charles)

All three members of District 32 (Beidle, Chang, and Sophocleus) voted no. LD32 is one of the most competitive districts in the state. Ned Carey and Mary Ann Lisanti represent single member subdistricts carved from larger Republican areas. Eric Bromwell represents LD8, a moderate to conservative district in eastern Baltimore County where Bromwell is the only remaining Democratic delegate. Both Charlie Barkley and C.T. Wilson are noted contrarians (as is Bromwell) from electorally safe districts.

I’m betting Busch can get the votes he needs. But a little (nice, please!) push from you to your favorite delegate or three on this list wouldn’t hurt either. Because this bill should become law. Let’s help get this done.

More On Money Bail In Maryland

I wrote about the problems with Maryland’s bail system in criminal cases back in September. Summary: our system sucks. One thing I didn’t write about back then was the current legislative stalemate over how to fix the system following a court ruling. A quick history primer:

Back in 2012, the Court of Appeals held that, contrary to what was actually happening, defendants had a right to counsel at bail hearings, including the initial determination by a commissioner. This was a bombshell ruling – in FY 2011, District Court commissioners conducted 176,523 initial appearance hearings, 30% of them in Baltimore City alone. The costs do providing counsel for all those hearings was and remains staggering.

In response to that ruling, the General Assembly in 2013 set out to restructure the bail system in Maryland. Three legislative sessions later, no resolution has been reached. Why not? On the surface, it’s a dispute between the House of Delegates and the State Senate. The Senate had been in favor of more comprehensive reform, while the House supports more limited reform and at least some resistance to the court ruling. Now the issue appears largely dead.

But on a more basic level, change has been slow to come because of the influence of the bail bond lobby. Being a bail bondsman is a lucrative business, and its best source of profits is poor families desperate to get their loved ones out of jail. As my last story pointed out, “defendants of color are given higher bail amounts and are detained more often than white defendants.”

The Washington Post editorialized in 2013:

The bail bond industry has powerful allies in Annapolis, where many lawmakers are trial lawyers. Eliminating the system wholesale may not be politically possible, at least for now. But the idea should get fair consideration. Even if the state is compelled to hire scores of public defenders to ensure defendants’ constitutional rights, it can also make the system fairer and more sensible by providing non-monetary means of encouraging defendants to appear in court.

As is so often the case, the Post overshot the mark by smearing every “trial lawyer” in the legislature, and there aren’t “many” such lawyers any longer, as the number comes down every election. But the Post isn’t wrong. There are impediments to real reform. Hint: one of the principal opponents of real bail reform in the legislature is no longer there, while a current legislator is now in a stronger position to advocate the industry’s interests than was the case when the editorial was published. Moving on . . .

OK, that was a super long intro, but here’s the point. Nothing is moving in the legislature any time soon. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on ad hoc efforts to get lawyers to cover initial bail hearings. Racial and socioeconomic effects persist. Time for a new strategy. The rallying cry of the “trial lawyers”: to the courthouse!

The lawsuit filed by the Equal Justice Under Law in San Francisco federal court in October seeks to abolish the cash bail system in the city, state — and the country. It’s the ninth lawsuit the center has filed in seven states.

“The bail system in most states is a two-tiered system,” said center founder Phil Telfeyan. “One for the wealthy and one for everyone else.”

The center has settled four lawsuits, convincing smaller jails in states in the South to do away with cash bail requirements for most charges.

Telfeyan said a win in California could add momentum to the center’s goal to rid the country of the cash bail system, which the lawyers say is used by most county jails in all 50 states. The federal system usually allows non-violent suspects free without bail pending trial and denies bail to serious and violent suspects.

The bail bond industry ignored the suit originally, but has now jumped in after government lawyers in San Francisco responded with insufficient vigor to defend the bail bond industry’s profits. Sound familiar?

But on Monday, lawyers for the California Bail Agents Association filed court papers seeking to formally oppose the San Francisco lawsuit. The association argues that government lawyers for San Francisco and the state are offering only “tepid” opposition to the California lawsuit.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi argues that most jail inmates are awaiting resolution of minor, non-violent crimes and that letting them free while awaiting court hearings will save the city millions of dollars. Mirkarimi said non-violent suspects can be monitored electronically and with frequent visits from law enforcement officials to ensure they don’t flee the area and attend all their court hearings.

The for profit bail bond industry has outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any. It’s rife with corruption, it’s insufficiently regulated, and it perpetuates existing de facto discrimination in the court system. It’s time for it to go, and there are alternatives.

A lawsuit in Maryland like the one in San Francisco would help to bring about real and necessary change. The only change that’s happened yet was started by such a lawsuit. Now it’s time to go for the home run ball. Who’s up for this? 

Memo to Fred Hiatt: Your increasing neocon sensibilities are affecting your reasoning processes (shockingly, the Justice Policy Institute analysis linked above notes the connection between the bail bond industry and ALEC, the right wing state legislative arm, creating alarming levels of cognitive dissonance for the Post, I’m sure). Dude, sometimes it’s those nasty “trial lawyers” that bring about the changes for good in this country, and I mean, y’know, Brown v. Board of Education and all that? Put the blame where it belongs: the bail bond industry.

Our Dystopian Local Governments 

This story is just appalling. How local political infighting led to competing police forces, the issuance of tickets for municipal infractions to bolster the budget of one side of the dispute, the rank conflicts of interest that permeate rural towns (particularly in the South), and the hiring of clearly unqualified and dangerous police officers (one of whom was previously charged – twice! – with aggravated rape and has five lawsuits pending against him). Ultimately, a six year old autistic boy is dead after being shot five times while the car he was riding in was riddled with 18 bullets.

You can’t make this shit up, folks. There’s so much to read but let’s start here.

Stafford has been charged twice with aggravated rape in nearby Rapides Parish. According to the indictment, one 15-year-old victim said Stafford committed rape on the victim’s birthday in 2004. In a separate incident, a second victim said Stafford committed rape in 2011.

In 2012, the charges were inexplicably dropped. In court documents, the attorney listed as representing Stafford is Piazza, the same judge he now works under as a marshal deputy.
Monique Metoyer, who prosecuted the rape case, declined to explain why the charges were dropped. But she confirmed that Marksville’s judge served as Stafford’s lawyer.

In what universe is it OK for a judge to represent people in criminal court? And what hopelessly compromised judge would do this, AND then, knowing of the charges, actually proceed to hire the guy?

If an author opened his or her next dystopian novel this way, a publisher would reject the premise as too outrageous. Life out-crazies art altogether too often.

Think We’ve Solved All The LGBTQ Issues?

Guess again. This shocked even me, and I’m pretty jaded about criminal law and LGBTQ issues.

It may shock you to learn that 40 percent of the young girls incarcerated in juvenile detention center identify as LGBT.

Like the unbelievable number of homeless youth who identify as queer, LGBT young people are also disproportionately affected by systems of power that can cause them to become caught up in cycles of poverty and incarceration — particularly queer youth of color.

HuffPost Live sat down this week to talk about the importance of broadening our scope when thinking about the ways that marginalized groups are impacted by the prison industrial complex.

“I think statistics like that really identify the importance for us to think intersectionally,” Jonathan Lykes, policy analyst for the Center for the Study of Social Policy, says in the above clip. “A lot of times when we think about the criminal justice systems it’s often directed at young black men… this is not only about young black men, it’s about young black trans women, it’s about young cis women, it’s about the LGBTQ population also. So really understanding how all of these different populations are impacted by these oppressive systems.”

There’s a longer video clip that can be viewed here.

h/t Kevin Gillogly for sending me the link

Mexican Court Says “Si” To Legal Weed

The jokes, they write themselves. NYT, a few minutes ago.

The Mexican Supreme Court opened the door to legalizing marijuana on Wednesday, delivering a pointed challenge to the nation’s strict substance abuse laws and adding its weight to the growing debate in Latin America over the costs and consequences of the war against drugs.

The vote by the court’s criminal chamber declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for their personal use. While the ruling does not strike down current drug laws, it lays the groundwork for a wave of legal actions that could ultimately rewrite them, proponents of legalization say.

The decision reflects a changing dynamic in Mexico, where for decades the American-backed war on drugs has produced much upheaval but few lasting victories. Today, the flow of drugs to the United States continues, along with the political corruption it fuels in Mexico. The country, dispirited by the ceaseless fight with traffickers, remains engulfed in violence.

All kidding aside, the legal shift parallels an increasing skepticism in Latin America about Washington’s tough on crime drug policies. Such skepticism may help fuel real reform in our criminal justice and drug policy systems, which will help to ameliorate and eventually dismantle current systems of mass incarceration. 


Charles County’s Finest

For those of you who think some of the most arbitrary and abusive police behavior can’t happen in Maryland, I give you this story. I’ve lost count of how many ways the police abused the system here. It’s a lot.

Juley Harris pulled into a Maryland gas station last December with his family and pumped some gas before stepping into the station’s convenience store and heating up a pizza.

When he stepped out, a Charles County sheriff’s deputy was demanding his identification, accusing him of driving with an unrestrained baby in the front seat.
Harris, 29, a hip hop artist who goes by DC Prophitt, denied the allegation, pointing to his one-month daughter who was restrained in the back seat.
Charles County sheriff’s deputy Gass insisted that Harris’ girlfriend placed the baby in the seat after they pulled into the station. He also accused Shanita Simms of breastfeeding the baby in the front seat, but that is not illegal in Maryland.
Gass claimed he spotted all this when they pulled into the station where he was parked. Harris told him his girlfriend only had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders.
Nevertheless, Gass began writing a ticket as a female deputy pulled up. Sensing that his rights were being violated, Harris asked the deputies to call a supervisor.
But that just made things worse.
“At first, (the supervisor) acted nice, but when I tried to explain things to him, he jumped in my face,” Harris said in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime Wednesday.
Harris became upset and began cussing. Simms pulled out her phone to record, capturing deputies arresting Harris after threatening to taser him. Harris’ 3-year-old daughter, who was in the backseat along with the baby, started crying.
Then they confiscated her phone, claiming they needed it as “evidence” – even though it has long been established the police do not have the right to seize cameras.
* * *

Despite the obvious Constitutional violations against Harris, he was convicted Tuesday of disorderly conduct, failure to obey a lawful order and driving with an unrestrained child in the front seat.

He said the evidence used against him was his girlfriend’s video, which was edited to remove the portion where a deputy climbed into his car and confiscated her phone – which they still have not returned.
Harris also said that all three deputies testified that their dashcams were not working at the time.
Three patrol cars. Three dashcams. Not a single one working.
They also claimed the surveillance from the gas station was not working either, a video Harris tried to obtain the day after his arrest, only to be told he had to go through corporate, who, in turn, told him he needed to get a court order.
The employees at the Dash In also told him Charles County deputies had already obtained the footage, apparently not having to go through such hurdles.
And even though it took ten months for his trial, deputies did not provide his public defender with the footage they planned to use against him until Monday, the day before the trial.

Let’s count the bad things that happened here.

1. The deputies accused the woman of breast feeding in public – not an offense in Maryland. Check the “offended women” box.

2. As can be seen from the video, the deputies were rude, hostile and confrontational from the outset.

3. Harris was threatened with a taser.

4. The deputies confiscated the cell phone from Simms, a huge no-no. They still haven’t returned it.

5. They presented only part of the video, leaving out the most damning portions.

6. They seized the surveillance video from the convenience store, but did not use it in court. I bet there’s exculpatory evidence in there (Brady material, in the criminal law jargon, after a Maryland court case).

7. The prosecution did not provide the video to the public defender until the day before trial.

8. Why did it take ten months for the case to get to trial? Per Maryland Casesearch, this appears to have been the first scheduled trial date. In Montgomery County, a much busier court system, first trial dates in District Court are routinely scheduled within 3-4 months.


 While not every case presents all the problems set forth here, I can tell you from personal experience that every one of these issues came up repeatedly, in case after case after case. The structure of the system is such that cases like this go by almost without notice, dozens if not hundreds of times per week. And judges let it all go, particularly in District Court – where the vast majority of cases get handled – because District Court judges almost invariably want to become Circuit Court judges, and good luck to a judge applying for a vacancy if the police or the local state’s attorney’s office thinks he or she is “too lenient” or “anti-cop.”

I hope Harris appeals the case to Circuit Court. It’s getting attention now, and any good defense lawyer can make mincemeat out of the police and prosecutor’s behavior here. The only thing more scary to judges than the police is publicity. Sunlight is always the best disinfectant. Speaking of which, here’s the video.

Body Cameras Alone Won’t Solve The Problem

If the public can’t get them, or if only police officers are allowed to watch them, then instead of creating transparency, body cameras just perpetuate the problem. The Post has a lengthy story which shows the problems are much deeper than just body cameras.

Nationwide, police have shot and killed 760 people since January, according to a Washington Post database tracking every fatal shooting. Of those, The Post has found 49 incidents captured by body camera, or about 6 percent.

Just 21 of those videos — less than half — have been publicly released. And in several of those cases, the footage, as in Burlington, was severely cut or otherwise edited.
Meanwhile, virtually all of the 36 departments involved in those shootings have permitted their officers to view the videos before giving statements to investigators, The Post found. Civil and human rights groups fear that access could help rogue officers tailor their stories to obscure misconduct and avoid prosecution.

Even where new laws requiring use of body cameras have been enacted in the past year, they’re often accompanied by restrictions on access to the video.

While individual police departments are adopting rules on the local level, police chiefs and unions are lobbying state officials to enshrine favorable policies into law. In 36 states and the District this year, lawmakers introduced legislation to create statewide rules governing the use of body cameras, often with the goal of increasing transparency.

Of 138 bills, 20 were enacted, The Post found. Eight of those expanded the use of body cameras. However, 10 set up legal roadblocks to public access in states such as Florida, South Carolina and Texas. And most died after police chiefs and unions mounted fierce campaigns against them.

An ACLU attorney makes a very good point – why mandate body cameras if you’re not going to allow anyone to see the videos?

“If police departments and law enforcement become the sole arbiters of what video the public gets to see, body cameras will go from being a transparency and accountability tool to a surveillance and propaganda tool,” said Chad Marlow, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. “Are we going to let that happen?”

Even worse, while keeping the video away from the public, local jurisdictions often allow police officers involved in fatal shootings to view the video before they give statements to investigators.

In most fatal shootings where there is body camera evidence, the officers involved have been allowed to view the footage before talking to investigators. This spring, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck urged the Los Angeles Police Commission to adopt that practice as official policy.

The practice is becoming standard nationwide, thanks in part to a 2014 report funded by the Justice Department and prepared by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF). The report says prior review will “lead to the truth,” and that officers will have to “account for their actions, regardless of what the video shows.”

So one set of privileged witnesses get to see the video, but not other witnesses. This creates all sorts of obvious problems, but Los Angeles adopted the policy anyway.

Civil rights attorneys and community groups argue that the practice could aid corrupt officers in covering up misconduct.

“If you are going to concoct a story that isn’t true, it is awfully helpful to know if you will or will not be contradicted by your body camera video,” said Marlow of the ACLU.
Attorney Dan Stormer, who represents the Keunang family in a $20 million claim against the LAPD, said the practice could help police discredit witnesses who disagree with the official account.
“If you get to see the video and you know exactly what happened, you can totally destroy someone else’s credibility who has a less firm view of what took place,” Stormer said.
In April, the commission voted with Beck, 3-1. Commissioner Robert Saltzman was the lone dissenter.

“Research shows that watching videos affects memory. It alters it,” Saltzman said. “If they watch it first, we will miss what the officer’s perception was at the time they used force and why they felt force was necessary.”

And, not shockingly, it turns out that the guy who wrote the 2014 report has already changed his mind.

PERF Executive Director Chuck Wexler agreed, saying his position has shifted since the group issued its report. In an interview, Wexler cited academic research showing that video can “essentially erase and record over” an officer’s memory.

“If [police] are going to review the video, other [eyewitnesses] should be allowed to see it, too,” Wexler said. “How can they expect to have any credibility if they keep it to themselves?”

The opportunities for abuse in terms of testimony and cross examination of witnesses who haven’t seen the video is enormous. It’s like having your witnesses blindfolded.

When even remedial legislation to provide an accurate record of police encounters with the public can be so twisted around that the only beneficiaries are police officers engaged in questionable behavior, legislators must realize that there is no magic bullet, whether it be body cameras or other laws. Only by uprooting the culture of police arrogance and self-aggrandizement are we going to bring down the senseless number of fatal shootings and bring our police forces in line with what the community determines to be appropriate norms of behavior.