You ever have someone promise you something that seems too good to be true, yet you want to believe them?
Your hopes are floating, then, when it’s almost there, it’s gone. Poof! A pin has been stuck in your emotional balloon.
You want to say “Darn it, why did you ever promise me that great gift knowing you could not fulfill the dream that you presented me?”
There may be more than a few people probably feeling that way in Baton Rouge since Police Chief Murphy Paul’s announcement after a recent police officer-involved shooting. About two weeks ago, Paul offered a new policy concerning the release of police video that would make the department more transparent.
According to the policy, the police chief will review the videos and release them within a certain period if the chief determines the release will not interfere with the integrity of the investigation and/or prosecution. It sounded great. However, that wording about whether releasing the video will interfere with prosecution leaves some skeptics to wonder about the prosecution of whom, the alleged guilty party or the officer.
The first time the chief had a chance to use the policy it went nowhere. Paul said there is neither body camera nor dash camera footage available from the Aug. 7 incident where a police officer alleges he was shot at by a man running away from him.
There was some sound picked up by the officer’s rear camera and some video from a bystander, he said, but Paul declined to release it.
All of this transparency talk is just noise now since the city paid more than $2 million last year for the body cameras that, apparently, no one is really required to use.
Paul made a big splash since taking over in January. He has traveled the city to talk to civic and political groups about his goals for the department and about his community policing effort. His officers are getting into the community to show people that they can talk to and touch the men and women in blue.
Those are good things, suggesting a new spirit in the police department. A lot of Paul's efforts have focused on high-crime areas in African-American neighborhoods. And contrary to some beliefs, the African-American community has always supported law enforcement. But African-Americans have also faced some questionable actions, some deadly, by law enforcement officers over the years. The community is obligated to make those situations known and be vocal in criticizing them.
So there was great dismay when Paul announced that no video was available in the Aug. 7 case. If the city is going to spend tons of money for state-of-the-art video equipment and then not use it, why bother?
The officer involved in the Aug. 7 incident said he was in a foot chase when the man fired a shot at him. The officer said he returned fire. A 21-year-old man was arrested in the incident and accused of attempted murder of a police officer. The man said he did not fire at the officer and has asked for any video footage he says would prove he did not shoot at the officer.
Last year, the same officer said he made a traffic stop where someone pointed a gun at officers, so he fired and killed him. The officer did not have a body camera nor a dash camera at the time.
But he had both pieces of equipment this time and did nothing with either.
Most of the Baton Rouge community would side with the officer’s accounts. We want to believe our police officers. But if there is a tool that police have that can relieve the public of a guessing game in deadly encounters, why not use it? This could be a slam-dunk for officers. Transparency is the theme of the day, right?
Is there a penalty for not turning on the body camera or the dash camera? If there isn’t, there ought to be.
If there is no penalty for not having the cameras on, why were they even purchased? The city could use those millions of dollars to clear up blight across the city or buy protective gear for the officers.
Support is building for this police department, and Paul is part of the reason. But the much-heralded video policy is a big, fat nothing-burger if the police cameras don’t have to be turned on.
Email Edward Pratt, firstname.lastname@example.org.