Who Watches the Watchmen?

With the advent of cruiser cams, law enforcement in the U.S. has already been leaning toward more transparency and accountability for officers.

ABC News recently reported on a new trend in law enforcement—wearable cameras for police officers. With the advent of cruiser cams, law enforcement in the U.S. has already been leaning toward more transparency and accountability for officers. These cameras, worn like a headset that wraps around the back of an officer’s head, take things to the next level. They provide a first person point of view from the officer’s perspective of all interactions with civilians, regardless to how far they get from the cruiser. While the move might bring up 1984-style worries about Big Brother, my feeling is that it’s about fucking time.

I’ve been fortunate to have only been arrested once, at least up to this point in my life. I was smart enough to remain respectful and cordial as I was tossed over the hood of the police cruiser and handcuffed. That’s not to say that I haven’t been witness to police abuse.

I remember being at a 7-11 in East Baltimore with Spanky, my sister’s boyfriend at the time. The clerks were harassing a group of teenagers who were guilty of nothing more than being Black, and maybe a little rowdy. Spanky simply pointed out to these kids that they didn’t have to put up with anyone’s bullshit, much less that of some minimum wage clerks. There was nothing inherently threatening in what he said—certainly sarcastic and smart-assed, but definitely not threatening.

By the time we made it outside there was a squad car waiting for us. One officer was already out of his vehicle. The doors to the 7-11 had barely closed on our asses before Officer Dickhead was in Spanky’s face. “What the fuck were you doing in there!?” he shouted. Spanky barely got the words I was just— before the cop bitch-slapped Spanky so hard that he was knocked to the ground.

Spanky got arrested for trespassing, something I didn’t know you could be charged with if you were actually making a purchase at a store, and ended up accepting Probation Before Judgment(PBJ) at the advise of his public defender. When Spanky brought up the undeserved smack down, his lawyer told him that it would be nearly impossible to prove, even with witnesses. Officer Dickhead would simply chalk it up to being provoked by his smart-assedness, and Spanky might invoke the wrath of prosecutors who might pull the PBJ option in lieu of a full court prosecution. Considering Spanky had a burgeoning cocaine business to protect, it was best for him to tuck his tail between his legs and lick his wounds in private.

Regardless to the fact that Spanky was an asshole and a drug dealer, I never got over how a cop could so nonchalantly smack someone who’d basically done nothing wrong and suffer no repercussions. Even now, long after my naïve years, it bothers me. Since then, I’ve gotten to understand what happens to the ego when you join the force. Ironically, my sister dated a cop after Spanky went off to try and become the next Boston George. Danny Boy wasn’t a cop when she met him, but was on the verge of joining the force. By the time he had a year under his badge you could tell his demeanor had changed. All the authority and power Danny Boy had been granted had gone to straight to his head. He eventually became ornery and abusive, and upon realizing this my sister dumped his sorry ass.

If you watch ABC’s report on the link I placed in the beginning of this article, (Yes it’s the right link. You just have to put up with a few seconds of a David Letterman update beforehand.) you will hear, near the end, a police officer lamenting the loss of bygone times where a cop’s word was all that was needed. I know, as does my old pal Spanky—a white guy, as it so happens—as do many of you, that a cop’s word doesn’t necessarily mean shit. They don’t screen police officer candidates for self-serving-dickhead genes. They probably never will. Recording their every move is the next best thing.

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