“Should cops see body cam video before giving UOF (use of force) statements?” That’s the question posed in a debate sponsored by Lexipol (“America’s leading provider of state-specific policies and verifiable policy training for public safety organizations”). According to Force Science News, Certified Forensics Video Analyst Grant Fredericks doesn’t like the idea.
It’s been his experience, he says, that officers can easily “misinterpret” video of force events they’ve been involved in. “They don’t want to be perceived as lying,” so if the video seems to contradict what they remember, “they’ll change their memory to accommodate the video.”
Maybe it’s me, but that seems an extremely charitable way of putting it. The more blunt way to express this process: officers who see video of an officer-involved-shooting or other use-of-force incident change their story to avoid legal or career blowback. The panel noted the potential for this pre-statement video screening to be used against the cop in court.
Then again, factual discrepancies between a pre-video-viewing statement and what’s on the actual video (e.g., the number of shots fired) can also be used against officers in court. Judges and juries may not appreciate the fact that an officer’s memory of events is inherently — but not necessarily deceptively — unreliable. Especially after a high-stress event.
It’s a difficult call no matter how you slice it. But one thing’s for sure: allowing cops to view video evidence before making a statement — but not other civilians involved — is a cop carve-out. Not dissimilar to some department’s policy of waiting 24 hours before interviewing an officer about a UOF incident, and always with a union rep and/or lawyer present.
According to Force Science News, the UOF video panel discussed “whether police previewing [UOF video] constitutes an unfair special privilege for officers that is not extended to suspects and key witnesses” and “whether officers should be entitled to preview relevant video from all cameras, including cell phones and surveillance units, that are known to have recorded the action in question.”
FSN’s email blast neglected to mention the results of that discussion. The fact that it’s even a matter of debate raises important questions about police transparency and the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment. Police are civilians too. They should be afforded no special privileges when it comes to use-of-force events.
Or should they?