Criminal Attorney Oklahoma Defense Lawyer Adam R. Banner OKLAHOMA CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY AT LAW

The Oklahoma Legal Group Blog

Do Viral Videos of Police Brutality Cause Violent Crime?

Adam Banner - Saturday, October 31, 2015

FBI Director James Comey gave a speech earlier this month at the University of Chicago College of Law, in which he addressed the crisis of violent crime and a spike in violent crime rates in major cities around the nation.

In this speech, Comey mentioned some startling crime statistics: 

  •  In one weekend in Chicago, more than 50 people were shot, including an 11-month-old boy who was struck by a bullet as his mother and grandmother were fatally shot beside him.
  • In most of the 50 largest American cities, there has been an increase in homicides and shootings--in many cases, a significant increase.
  • Homicides in Washington, D.C., have increased by more than 20 percent.
  • Baltimore averages a homicide a day, which is a higher rate than New York City, which has 13 times the population.
  • Milwaukee's murder rate has almost doubled over the last year.

Of course, simply noticing a violent crime spike does nothing unless we look for both a reason for the problem and a solution to it. 

Comey's reason and solution, however, rubbed many people--including fellow Justice Department members--the wrong way:

In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns? 

I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, “We feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.”

The FBI Director seems to implicate viral videos for an increase in violent crime. Because videos of "cops behaving badly" and police brutality have widely circulated, and in the aftermath of incidents such as the deaths of Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott and Eric Garner, there is an outcry against law enforcement and the abuse of power some officers inflict. As a result, common police interactions are often filmed by bystanders--that's how we saw the 14-year-old girl thrown to the ground by a police officer at an unauthorized pool party in McKinney, Texas, and how we saw a 16-year-old girl slammed to the ground and thrown from her desk by a School Resource Officer in South Carolina.

Essentially, Comey's argument seems to be that police cannot effectively do their jobs if their mistakes--or abuses--are going to be documented and broadcast. And if police cannot do their jobs, then of course violent crime will increase.   

Reports say that Justice Department officials "privately fumed" about Comey's statement, and White House press secretary Josh Earnest said at a White House briefing that there is no evidence to back up Comey's assertion that viral videos of police interactions led to an increase in violent crime nationwide. “In fact," he said, "you hear law enforcement leaders across the country indicating that that’s not what’s taking place."

Certainly, seeing these viral videos of police brutality will breed mistrust of law enforcement. But is the solution for police to remain in their vehicles and avoid informal contact? 

Viral videos of police interactions should not create a "climate of crime where the police cannot police."

Rather, these videos should guide them toward making better choices--appropriate choices--in their interactions, knowing that there will be video evidence if they abuse their powers and use unreasonable force in any given situation.

If you don't feed the fire, there is nothing to go viral. If every SRO quietly and carefully escorts a non-compliant teen out of the room, using only the degree of force necessary to accomplish that, the kids aiming their cell phone cameras at the interaction will simply put them away. Slamming her to the ground and throwing her across the room? That just gives them something to talk about and reason to pull out their phones the next time they witness a police interaction. 

The quickest way to kill viral videos of police brutality? Stop being brutal. 

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