Kate Brown’s emergency legislation for police reform made some steps in the right direction, mostly focusing on de-escalation, a statewide database, and improving training for police officers. However, it leaves one glaring issue overlooked.
Some police lie.
They lie to protect themselves, and lie to protect other police. It is so common that police have many terms for the rule among police “blue wall of silence,” “blue code” or “blue shield.” The public has become aware each time a viral video exposes police abuse following an inaccurate police report.
“Police officers in [your department] use more force than is necessary to make an arrest,” 84.1 percent responded; seldom, sometimes, often, or always.
“An officer who reports another officer’s misconduct is likely to be given the cold shoulder by his or her fellow officers” 67 percent agreed or strongly agreed.
“It is not unusual for a police officer to turn a blind eye to improper conduct by other officers,” 52.4 percent agreed or strongly agreed.
“Police officers always report serious criminal violations involving abuse of authority by fellow officers,” 61 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed.
When asked, “Do police officers often treat whites better than blacks and other minorities?” 11.9 percent of white officers agreed, while 50.3 percent of black officers agreed.
It would also aide honest police in the event that they are falsely accused.
Police training and a hiring database do not address the public trust issues that exists today. We have witnessed through historical events and police survey that they do not tell the truth. Additionally, many are unable or unwilling to address their racial biases. When an officer does something wrong, and there is no oversite in the field, it creates a colossal conflict of interest for the officer in writing an accurate report.
Training does not change the hearts and minds of police, and that should not be the aim of police reform. Meaningful policy reform brings transparency to policing to prevent the concealment of abuses of power. When police can author the course of events from a position of authority, it makes it difficult to challenge the accuracy of their claims. In a court of law, reports and testimony are leveraged against a defendant as evidence—a severe and scary problem in light of racial biases and dishonesty.
The only unbiased account of policing has come from cameras: police body cams and public recording. I would echo many of the same policy recommendations that the ACLU made to Oregon.
Body cameras for officers interacting with the public should be mandatory at all times. Policies and procedures should be put in place by the state, not law enforcement agencies.
The recorded person should have the sole right of refusal to turn off a camera. The officer should only be allowed to turn off a recording with the explicit consent of the said person. The officer should have no access to the footage before writing their report. Obscuring the audio, video, or neglecting to record should lead to discipline and or termination. The footage should be available any time the police report is contested and the police should be held accountable in the absence of that footage.
Plans to equip police officers with cameras were expressed in 2015, and more recently, in 2019, we are no closer to achieving this necessary component. Body cameras were omitted entirely from Kate Brown’s emergency legislation. Without a mandatory body camera policy, abusive police will continue to find refuge in the dogmatic belief in police accounts.
As Einstein put it, a “Blind belief in authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”