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How Do We Really Hold Law Enforcement Accountable?

Wikimedia Commons Credit: Tony Webster

In January 2015, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it would order 3,000 of Taser’s X26P smart weapons, which “record the date, time and duration of firing, and whether Taser wires actually strike suspects and how long the thousands of volts of electricity pulse through them,” as reported by Reuters.

This follows a December announcement in which Mayor Eric Garcetti stated the LAPD would begin to utilize body cameras in areas with high crime and police activity. "I want to make sure LAPD is on the cutting edge when it comes to crime suppression and constitutional policing," said Garcetti.


The idea is to help create more transparent methods of law enforcement. Video allows for more accountability, and helps ensure officers do not abuse their power, or be overly aggressive with suspects.

Racially charged.

The idea is to help create more transparent methods of law enforcement. Video allows for more accountability, and helps ensure officers do not abuse their power, or be overly aggressive with suspects.

Debate surrounding these issues continues in the wake of growing concern about excessive force used by U.S. law enforcement officers. After the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and the subsequent protests in Baltimore, conversations about police brutality have gained national attention. Unfortunately, these are only a few examples of recent instances where the justice system seemed pretty, well, unjust. Mainstream media coverage of these events has also been cause for concern, given the racially charged implications of these events.

Are we making progress?

The LAPD’s new policy seems like a step in the right direction, but concern still remains. In April 2015, the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners reviewed rules that “address questions of when the video cameras must be turned on, how long the recordings should last, how the devices are to be maintained and inspected, how the footage should be stored and if officers are allowed to immediately view the recordings.”

Shortly after, the LAPD approved policies that would allow officers to view footage before filing a report, or speaking to investigators. Whether or not the footage will be available to the public is unknown.

Along with civil liberties groups, long-time commission member Robert Saltzman opposed the new policies.

“The perception - which I think is inaccurate but is widespread - is that officers are not always honest,” Saltzman said. “Given that perception, it would make more sense to bend over backwards to reassure a skeptical public by having the officer give a preliminary statement prior to viewing the video.”

More to come?

This may be only the beginning of police force upgrades. According to The Nation, the Department of Homeland Security “has an even more expansive mandate to deliver the militarized goods to local law enforcement by way of its Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP). In 2014 alone, the HSGP gave out over $1 billion in grant funding, with special provisions for ‘high-threat, high-density urban areas.’ The list of DHS-authorized equipment provided to local police departments includes everything from Bearcats and helicopters to battle dress uniforms, body armor, ballistic helmets, and shields. Other agencies, like the Bureau of Justice Assistance (the funding arm of the Department of Justice), dole out hundreds of millions of dollars annually to police departments—about 10% of which goes toward controlled equipment like armored vehicles, explosive devices, firearms, and ‘less-lethal’ weapons like tear gas and TASERs.”

Civil unrest in response to unjust law enforcement is unfortunately nothing new, and it makes one wonder if these policies are in place to protect us or keep us in line. How do we both hold law enforcement accountable for their actions and decrease the need for violence at the same time?