An editorial column appeared in the Saturday, July 10, 2016 Washington Post correctly praising the Washington, D.C. Police Department’s release of a recent police shooting video pursuant to rules which give the Mayor’s office discretion to do so in matters of significant public interest. It was the first release of such a recording since the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department started using body cams. Not surprisingly, it showed a shooting of a subject by a police officer that appeared justified.
The editorial went on to urge the city to release video footage “in its discretion” where the camera shows police behavior in which their use of their firearms may not be justified in order to avoid what has been happening in Chicago and elsewhere – widespread cover-ups of police misconduct and a flurry of allegations and complaints about the appearance of the government’s agent, the police, having something to hide.
History has consistently taught that government secrecy produces only corruption by the government, and mistrust of it by the governed. The only answer is openness and full disclosure. All police shootings recorded on body cams worn by officers should be made public, without exception and without the intervention of discretion by a government or police official.
The principal argument against universal recording and universal release of these recordings is without merit. That argument is over issues of privacy. When the police do their job, they do it in public. Events occurring in public do not enjoy the right of privacy. By definition, public events are not private.
It is widely urged that we need to improve public trust, transparency and accountability in the police. Hiding what the police do in public is not the way to improvement in this area. Universal recording and universal public access to police shooting events is a good start. All police shootings are events of “significant public interest,” whether by or at police officers.
Let’s see them all. Let’s end the secrecy over public police conduct, and see what happens to the public’s trust of and confidence in the police when we see them on camera at work.