Does the video tell the story?
I did several media interviews this week about an arrest that was captured on video. While this is not uncommon and I have been asked about videos involving LEOs from around the United States, one question always surprises me, “From what you see on the video, did the LEO act appropriately? It is the standard question and receives my standard answer, “I want to hear what the LEO says about their actions.”
While I’ve been accused of being “an apologist” for law enforcement, to which I replied “They have nothing to apologize for”, this answer is grounded in three simple truths. First, the United States Supreme Court and state law in every state I’ve examined places makes the LEO’s subjective belief a critical part of the analysis of her actions. Second, the video does not show the LEO’s point of view and never will. Cameras have no peripheral vision, they do not change their focus to threats and therefore have no tunnel vision, and they do not move with the LEO’s eyes. Finally, any force, even the lawful use of force, does not look good on video and the analysis of any use of force requires an understanding of the law, details of the situation faced by the LEO, and an in-depth understand of law enforcement tactics.
I do my best to push these interviews to discuss the due process afforded the LEO, the immense amount of investigative resources that will examine the situation, and the fact that the LEO must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable LEO NOT a reasonable person. In the majority of cases, I am effective. I believe that is the message that should be widespread.
What have you done to protect yourself and your family in the event that a video of your actions appears on the national news? Have you joined the Fraternal Order of Police and the FOP Legal Defense Plan? What steps have you taken as an agency leader or command staff member to ensure that the rights of the LEO are protected while you are investigating and keeping the media, the complainant, and the public informed? Like anything else, your efforts will not be successful unless you plan and prepare for the situation. I believe my book Blue News will help with those efforts.
No LEO or agency head wakes up expecting a media onslaught. Prepare in advance. Be ready to answer questions while the investigation is proceeding. There is a lot at stake for the LEO and the agency. Stay safe.