Recently there have been a number of so-called police accountability groups becoming more active. While the stated concept behind a police accountability group is admirable, sometimes these groups make matters worse.
Observation and Recording is Okay
No officer worth his weight in spit will get upset with you for passively observing his actions and even recording them. In fact these days, with just about everyone having a smartphone in their pocket, most police academies train officers to always assume that they are on camera, and to act accordingly.
Wait To Question Officers
You’ve probably seen them on YouTube, questioning the officer about everything he’s doing, and overtly accusing him of willfully violating a citizen’s rights or being woefully ignorant about his primary area of work knowledge. While there is nothing wrong with questioning an officer’s intentions or competence, so long as the officer is not endangering anyone with the actions in question, it is best to do this after the officer has done his business, or to call his department to bring up your concerns with his supervisor, so the officer can focus on his job.
Walking the Line of Intereference
Legally, in Texas, “Interference” requires that you actually do something that overtly prevents or impedes an officer’s attempt to carry out his duties. This basically means physically interfereing, giving a suspect advantageous information, etc. So, shooting a video of an officer, and heckling him as he tries to do his job, usually won’t be suffient to get you charged. However, there is no question that you would be impeding the officer’s ability to do his job effectively, by preventinghim from focusing on his work, and the frustration of trying to get rid of a hostile subject may cause him to say or do things he normally would not, like an unhappy camper flailing at a persistent mosquito.
Cops Can Lie
Contrary to popular myth, cops legally can and do lie at work. In fact, we often lie to prevent a suspect from freaking out about an impending arrest, until we have back-up to help make the arrest, or to cause a suspect to think we hold more cards than we do, to get him to spill the beans. However, this can make an officer look incompetent or thugish when he uses it in an attempt to intimidate an annoying citizen to leave him alone or cease creating a non-criminal disturbance.
Crazy People Try to Kill Us
Now, these guys playing street side lawyer with the officer, may not cross the line legally, and may genuinely intend to protect citizens from rogue officers, but while they may just be a nuisance, when viewed in retrospect, they can actually be very frightening in the moment. Not because we’re afraid of having some sort of secret evil deeds or shortcomings exposed, but because we don’t know this guy from Adam, he’s clearly not a friendly, and we do have the unfortunate honor of wearing targets on our chests in the eyes of anti-government kooks! Nothing quite like a fight or flight reaction triggered by the fear of an impending gunfight to make you act a little uncouth!
We Don’t Know Who’s Dangerous
Alas, we rarely know much about anyone we deal with, and our lives depend upon us assuming the worst. So, the next time you see an officer “over reacting” to someone who looks harmless on You Tube, look up Dorothea Puente or Ray & Faye Copeland.
We’re Just Humans Behind The Badge
Even outside of a potentially deadly situation, no one likes to be openly challenged in the first place, but this is magnified a hundredfold when you know the person is recording a video, and fully intends to splash it all over the Internet for all the world to see, along with what is likely to be very distorted and disparaging commentary.
Add to this the fact that police can get demotions, days without pay, or even fired for what ever their supervisor can pencil-whip into “incompetence” or “conduct unbecoming of an officer,” and you can see how stressful one of these interactions can be for even a competent and well-mannered officer, who just wants to provide for his wife and kids.
What do you think? Are police accountability groups a positive force, or villians in heroes clothing? Have you ever directly witnessed any encounters between an accountability group and police? What happened?