With great power comes great responsibility. Police are given a badge and the authority to uphold the law. A body camera should be included as a part of uniform.
The shooting of Jeremy Mardis, a 6-year-old boy, in Marksville, Louisiana on Nov. 3 was recorded on a body camera worn by one of four police officers who were at the scene. That video footage from the body camera led to the decision to charge two officers with second-degree murder.
The cops at the scene said that Mardis’ death was a tragic accident that occurred when they tried to serve a warrant to the boy’s father, Chris Few. They said Few had resisted the warrant. After Few had been cornered, they said, he tried to reverse his SUV and hit the officers. Then in an exchange of gunshots, Mardis was caught in the crossfire and killed.
The officers who fired their weapons, Norris Greenhouse, Jr. and Derrick Stafford, were arrested on charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder.
“Nothing is more important than this badge that we wear on our uniform, the integrity of why we wear it,” said Colonel Mike Edmonson of the Louisiana State Police. “It’s not a right, it’s a privilege. And tonight that badge has been tarnished.”
It is hard to disagree with Edmonson.
There appears to have been no outstanding warrants for Few. No gun was found in his vehicle. When officials reviewed the body camera footage of the incident, they found that Few had his hands in the air when the officers unloaded the gunshots on the car.
The situation was not threatening, and yet a 6-year-old boy was killed.
Much of the attention given to Mardis’ death has come from the debate on the role of police body cameras. Because this incident was recorded, the officers’ false accounts were discredited. This case is an actual incident that proves that real footage can provide evidence in place of unreliable witness testimony.
Police officers are granted the authority of the law. With this responsibility, officers need to be honest, reliable and trustworthy. In the Mardis case, the officers did not meet these standards.
Considering all of the discrepancies in the case—the warrant, the story of Few resisting and trying to back into the marshals, the supposed threats and the allegation that Few fired a gun—the officers involved have clearly lied about the incident. Greenhouse and Stafford’s refusal to talk to police did not help their case either.
Body cameras have the potential to expose cops who ignore rules and regulations and abuse their power. We cannot correct injustice if we cannot see it.
Law enforcement officers should not see body cameras as a constraint against them. They have taken on one of the most dangerous jobs in our society. They protect citizens from other citizens, and they face the task of balancing the rights of the aggrieved and the accused.
Constrain police too much, remove their ability to practice good judgment, and the cops who are still willing to do the job will be ineffective, and every criminal will know it.
Robust change to laws could order cops to not make arrests over misdemeanors. However, if you own a business or work at a public venue, you might perceive such a change to imply that it is open season for your products.
Cops could be kept from pursuing fleeing felons, but if a robber simply has to run away to escape justice, then there will be more on the loose.
Police officers could be told to never draw their weapons unless fired upon first, increasing the risk to their lives while they are trying to protects ours.
Body cameras provide a better way than the above options to protect citizens and police officers alike. They should not be seen as a point of constraint, but rather a tool for officers to use when they follow the law.
Body cameras bring concrete evidence to cases. As long as cops follow procedures and make rational decisions, they should have no fear of what the footage contains.
Of course, not all cops are dishonest, but the ones involved in the Mardis case were, and body camera footage helped uncover the truth.
Rather than expect the worst from our officers, we should empower them to use all the advantages of body cameras to become more professional and more accurate public servants. As long as they do not prove us wrong, we should trust them to do so.