The Mesa and Rialto studies suggest that when the police don’t engage in abuse, citizens don’t in fact report it.
That means it’s reasonable to conclude that a substantial majority of the public’s complaints about police brutality are legitimate, or at a very minimum grounded in the kind of behavior that the police simply wouldn’t engage in with body cameras present.
In a randomly assigned pilot project in Mesa, Arizona, 75 percent fewer use-of-force complaints were filed against officers who wore the cameras than against those who did not. This correlation makes it clear that people aren’t complaining about police abuse at random; citizens aren’t just making these grievances up.
Worse, the substantiation of a complaint of excessive use of force did not by any means ensure that a police officer would actually be punished.
On the contrary, slightly more than half of the police officers against whom cases were substantiated were administratively charged, and a verbal reprimand was the most common punishment.
And if we can now say with some certainty that the bulk of these citizen complaints are grounded in behavior the police would, if watched, not engage in, then we finally have some yardstick by which to measure the structural injustices of the system, or at least how often the legitimate complaints of citizens are dismissed in favor of the self-justification of the police.
In 2013 the Civilian Complaint Review Board in New York City received more than 5,000 complaints of excessive use of force, totaling 11,334 allegations. Of those allegations, 189 were substantiated in a process that took an average of 450 days to complete.
To bridge that divide, and help bring more accountability to the system, Police Chief Eddie Driggers of North Charleston suggested the very solution a federal judge has demanded of the New York Police Department, and that President Obama has committed to spending a quarter-billion dollars on: body cameras.
The theory behind the use of body cameras is that video evidence will provide us with some objective truth about what happens in violent encounters between civilians and police. As the tapes of King’s beating and Garner’s death make clear, video evidence can be very powerful but still not overcome the vast structural advantages enjoyed by the police in the legal system.
“With the Internet, we’re moving away from just physical ideas about infidelity and acknowledging emotional infidelity.” While there is no universally accepted definition, an Internet affair frequently involves intimate chat sessions and sexually stimulating conversation or cybersex, which may include filming mutual masturbation with a Web camera.
Several studies suggest that even when there is no in-person contact, online affairs can be just as devastating as the real-world variety, triggering feelings of insecurity, anger and jealousy.
While the data from the body camera studies suggests that a significant majority of police abuse complaints have merit, the current system makes the chance that an officer will experience any real repercussions from using excessive force against a civilian less than one half of 1 percent.
So is it any wonder that Officer Slager, who had two prior complaints against him, one alleging excessive force for unjustified Tasing, was reportedly exonerated in the violent incident and still on the force when he killed Walter Scott?
But there is a lesson in previous cases of police brutality, such as the failure to prosecute the police who were recorded asphyxiating Eric Garner and the initial acquittal of the officers in the Rodney King beating: Even in the face of seemingly incontrovertible video evidence, this blame-the-perpetrator defense regularly works for police officers.