Brace yourself, California, a tsunami of recorded violence is coming to TV screens and social media feeds this summer via the release of police body worn camera footage.
My hope is all of these videos will come with a warning: “Caution: this content may be disturbing to some viewers.”
The footage during use-of-force incidents and shootings becomes public record in July.
Ahead of the new law, a handful of police departments are admirably getting out in front of the trend and releasing the videos now.
Police work, particularly when it involves the use of force, is often not pretty. While the videos will be difficult for many to watch, those who make the time will have a deeper understanding and appreciation of the very real challenges of being a police officer.
The Los Angeles Police Department was the first to routinely release body worn camera footage, and — thankfully for those of us who care about the profession — they did so in a sophisticated manner. LAPD’s “Critical Incident Community Briefings” include important context such as 911 calls, photos of weapons, slow motion explanations and more so viewers better understand the complexities and dynamics that the officers faced in each situation.
In the past month, at least three other police departments in Southern California released similar “contextual” videos.
The videos bring to life the often-used phrase, “split-second decision-making.”
They offer a sobering reality check about the hard-to-otherwise-fathom real and deadly danger police officers face. The videos also provide depressing commentary on the human condition. Tragically and undeniably, police officers have to deal with disturbed, suicidal, and downright bad people every day.
In virtually all the critical incidents, officers are reacting to a suspect’s non-compliant behavior. Words alone are sadly not enough to deescalate many volatile situations.
There is simply not enough time for the police officers in these deadly situations to discern whether, for example, a naked man charging them with a knife is actually going to stab them to death if they don’t shoot him first. You can view that video on LAPD’s website.
There’s no time — not even one second — for them to grab a less-lethal option, and there’s no guarantee that a Taser or foam bullet would’ve stopped the suspect anyway.
Last year in the U.S., 144 police officers were killed on duty, up 12 percent compared to 2017. This doesn’t even account for the number of officers shot and injured, or just shot at and missed. It’s a miracle and a testament to the professionalism and training of the officers that the number isn’t much higher.
Sadly, even with the contextual videos, Monday morning quarterbacking in the social media era is inevitable.
WARNING: This video contains graphic content and viewer discretion is advised.The purpose of this news release is to provide the public with updated information concerning the May 3, 2019 officer-involved shooting that occurred on the 400 block of North Rose Avenue. The purpose of this news release is to provide the public with updated information concerning the May 3, 2019 officer-involved shooting that occurred on the 400 block of North Rose Avenue. Officer Timothy Roberts was the one officer that fired his handgun in this incident. A second officer had arrived on scene and was retrieving what is commonly referred to as a “beanbag” firing shotgun from the back of his patrol vehicle as the shooting occurred. This “less lethal” shotgun is intended to serve as an option in situations such as this. The second officer did not discharge his firearm or the shotgun.The Oxnard Police Department is also releasing Officer Roberts’ body worn camera video, which captured the incident. Portions of the video footage have been blurred to protect the juvenile’s privacy. Overview of IncidentDuring the morning hours of Friday, May 3, 2019, the Oxnard Police Department’s dispatch center received multiple calls from a female reporting a woman with a knife in the area of 1835 San Gorgonio, and then behind the Carl’s Jr. on the 400 block of North Rose Avenue. The female was described as being 18 years in age, wearing a red shirt and blue shorts. During the first call to the dispatch center, it was reported that she “seems disturbed” and that she was walking around and waving a knife. The caller also indicated that the female was possibly armed with a gun. The caller recontacted dispatch three (3) additional times, and during these calls stated that the female was “getting increasingly worse” and that she was screaming and threatening people.Oxnard Police Officer Timothy Roberts arrived on scene first, and made verbal contact with a female in the dirt field behind the business. The female approached, and then brandished a large kitchen knife (pictured below) at the officer. The officer drew his handgun and made several verbal requests for her to drop the weapon. The female ignored and expressly refused the officer’s requests, and began to advance on him. The officer retreated in an attempt to create space between them. The officer continued to give the female verbal commands to drop the weapon as he retreated backwards through the parking lot. As the second officer arrived on scene and was retrieving a “beanbag” shotgun, the female ran directly towards Officer Roberts with the knife in her hand. Officer Roberts fired his weapon, and the female was struck by gunfire. Officers promptly rendered first aid to her until medical personnel arrived on scene. The video contains graphic content and viewer discretion is advised. The female’s face has been blurred because of her age. Audio that identifies her by name has also been redacted. During the incident, the female brandished a large kitchen knife. A picture of the actual knife is shown below: During the investigation, detectives determined that the multiple calls made into the Oxnard Police Department’s dispatch center came from the phone that was in the female’s possession. Detectives have also discovered evidence that supports the position that the female deliberately intended to be shot by an officer. At the time of this news release the female is in an area hospital in “critical but stable” condition. A criminal investigation is continuing. The public may view the video by clicking on the following link: Officer Roberts has been employed by the Oxnard Police Department since 2015, and is currently assigned to the Department’s Patrol Division. At the time of this update, he is on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure for officer-involved shootings.The Oxnard Police Department’s Major Crimes Unit is investigating the incident. Detectives are requesting that anyone who might have witnessed the incident, or has additional information to contact Detective Jeff Kay at (805) 385-8174 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Detectives are also encouraging anyone who video recorded or photographed all or part of the incident to upload media directly to detectives via the following link: https://oxnardpd.evidence.com/axon/citizen/public/480northroseThe link to the press release is: https://www.oxnardpd.org/31061-2/
Posted by Oxnard Police Department on Thursday, May 9, 2019
I imagine most social media critics and those with political agendas never had to attempt to arrest a man high on drugs, armed with a gun, and not wanting to go to jail.
I wonder if some even care enough to try to put themselves in the officer’s shoes.
The level of transparency on display by a growing number of agencies, while difficult to watch, will hopefully once and for all dispel the false narrative that police officers routinely use unnecessary or unreasonable force to protect themselves or the community.
Of course, there will be those very few where the officer’s response is less than stellar or below expectations. That’s the reality of employing human beings with all their shortcomings and faults.
And it may be wishful thinking to imagine a future where transparency breeds understanding. My fear is plaintiff’s attorneys, activists, and others will edit out-of-context clips and make false accusations to attempt to undermine police community relations to further their agendas.
Here’s another fact that is likely to get lost when the videos become regularly public. The use of force (and, particularly, deadly force) is rare. In fact, at my old agency we did NOT use force in more than 99 percent of our contacts with the public.
Regrettably, what is missing from this new approach to communication is the release of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of videos showing officers responding to difficult circumstances where things turn out well. The suicidal subject with a knife who is talked down, the resisting suspect who is restrained and taken into custody without injury, and, of course, the armed suspect who is arrested with no harm to either the suspects or officers.
And that doesn’t include the encounters where officers perform CPR on a drowning child or race into a burning building to save a life or help an elderly woman change a flat tire or revive a subject who overdosed on heroin and ensure they got into a rehab center.
The reality is police officers are doing a remarkable job given the fact society has super-human expectations for the profession.
My concern, however, is that politicians, media, and activists will portray critical incidents as the norm. They are not. They are visible evidence the job of a police officer is difficult and dangerous and it’s not getting any easier.
Joe Vargas is a retired police captain. You can reach him at email@example.com.