A Columbia police sergeant discusses public perception vs. police reality
COLUMBIA, 12/8/11 (Interview) -- The signs were obvious 20 years ago, with cameras documenting LA's infamous Rodney King beating and OJ Simpson's equally infamous SUV freeway chase. Cameras -- and cops -- were getting engaged.
Today, police officers and the cameras that film them are an aging married couple, with cell phones, patrol car cameras, digital video recorders, and citizens for justice recording nearly every law enforcement move.
"This is a real adjustment for many officers," Columbia Police Department Sergeant Jill (Wieneke) Schlude told the Columbia Heart Beat. "When I became a police officer in 1999, I didn't have a camera in my patrol car and cell phones only made calls. The next generation of officers will be one of the first to spend their entire career almost constantly recorded."
The scrutiny is both good and bad, Schlude explained, articulating technology's double-edged sword.
"I think we have to be careful to use video to expose the bad and change it.
But also in equal measure, to celebrate the good and encourage it."
"The use of video is ultimately good and will hopefully lead to decreased complaints and reduced incidents of excessive force, as well as provide more transparency and increase public trust," she said. "But any officer who has been involved in the uglier part of policing and has had to use force completely lawfully and properly will tell you that public opinion and perception can be a heavy weight -- even when you know you were doing the right thing -- even when the Chief says you did the right thing."
The daily scrutiny starts with a rattling reality: being on camera all day in a job filled with stressful and unpredictable situations. "It doesn't feel great," Schlude said. "It is worse for police officers because inevitably it means someone will be second guessing and scrutinizing every detail of what they do and say, and sometimes twisting or editing it to fit an agenda."
An often-misguided discourse can follow the scrutiny, much of it coming from people
who have had repeated run ins with law enforcement or extensive criminal records.
But it's not the scrutiny that takes the long-term toll, she emphasized. It's the often-misguided discourse that follows, much of it coming from people who have had repeated run ins with law enforcement officers or extensive criminal records.
"Imagine you are a truly good police officer," Schlude said. "How must it feel to be called everything from a fascist to a racist to a thug just for doing your job and protecting yourself and the people you are sworn to keep out of harm's way. Imagine hearing it for 20 or more years.
"I think we have to be careful to use video to expose the bad and change it," she added. "But also in equal measure, to celebrate the good and encourage it."