Saturday, September 24, 2016
BODY CAMERA VIDEOS NEED TO BE RELEASED QUICKLY
"CHARLOTTE — For two nights, enraged residents here have taken to the streets in both peaceful and violent demonstrations following the fatal police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, 43.
Police have said Scott raised a gun toward an officer. Scott’s family members have said he had a book in his hands. Activists have noted that North Carolina is an open-carry state — and that even if Scott was armed, they want to see proof of him raising the weapon in a way that would justify lethal force.
Body-camera video of the incident could settle the dispute over whether Scott was armed, but police and city officials have declined to make the video public.
Last year, Charlotte became the first city in North Carolina to equip all of its uniformed officers with body cameras. Although the officer who shot and killed Scott was in plainclothes and not wearing a body camera, officials have said that parts of the interaction were captured by body cameras worn by other officers as well as a dash-mounted camera.
This tussle — between public calls for transparency and police pleas for patience — has played out in dozens of U.S. cities in the past two years. Citing cases such as the shootings of Walter Scott, where video upends the police narrative of events, many activists argue that the only way they can know for sure what happened in an incident is if officials release video. Police departments often say that releasing the video too soon could undermine their investigations of these incidents.
“Transparency is in the eye of the beholder,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney said at a news conference Thursday morning. “I’m going to be very intentional about protecting the integrity of the investigation. We release it when we believe it’s a compelling reason.”
Failure to release the videos quickly only feeds suspicion, distrust and conspiracy theories. It appears that some police leaders are more interested in protecting their agencies and officers. The cost of this can be violent riots. Videos never tell the complete story, but transparency is essential. There is always a threat to an officer's right to a fair trial, but there are numerous methods to protect that rights.