Secretive policing is un-American and is damaging public trust
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The differences between the Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD and Tulsa PD underline the need for transparency and forthcomingness from law enforcement.

There are those who would throw the blame on anarchists, agitators and anonymous anti-government types for the violence that followed the officer-involved shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte.

They would be wrong.

There is something more sinister at work — namely the growing power of police departments across the nation to obfuscate, to hide and to aid their rank-and-file members in avoiding prosecution for misconduct or worse, a taking a life.

The power wielded by police department - which is rooted in police unions and their quid pro quo relationships with weak-willed politicians from Sacramento to Washington D. C. - has led to problems that range from out-of-control pension plans that will soon bankrupt many major U.S. cities to cover-ups in the name of officer privacy.

Throughout the United States of America, police forces are growing increasingly secretive. And as these well-organized outfits amass political power, the ability of the governed to restrict police authority becomes more flaccid.

The release of video in North Carolina didn’t change anything. And sadly, it may be the last time a department in that state is remotely transparent in the wake of an officer-involved shooting. As the New York Times reported Monday, on Oct. 1 recordings made by law enforcement officials - including those from body and dashboard cameras - will no longer be a matter of public record in North Carolina.

Here is the key provision: footage captured by the police will be disclosed only to a person or representative of the person “whose image or voice” is included in the recording.

If you don’t think this is a problem, think again.

No doubt we need cops on the street. No doubt they are underappreciated and far-too-often are asked to do things that none of us would do.

But that doesn’t justify the growing cry for secrecy. A community's contract with police officers should ensure that if someone is given a gun and a badge, we are entitled to know how they use it. Cops need to be accountable for discharging their weapons. Period. 

So who shoulders some responsibility for violence in Charlotte?

The blame lies squarely with a secretive police department that took its sweet time releasing a redacted and grainy video.

Contrast the actions of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department with those of the Tulsa Police following the shooting of motorist Terrance Crutcher. Tulsa P.D. immediately released a disturbing video that was neither redacted nor pretty. Crutches, hands clearly visible, is tasered and shot to death for no apparent reason. Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan got the Justice Department involved and committed to full transparency and disclosure.

 

With everything out in the open, the District Attorney filed manslaughter charges and named Officer Betty Shelby as Crutcher’s shooter. Unlike the situation in Charlotte, there was no civil unrest in Tulsa.

Mayor Dewey F. Bartlett explained the Tulsa P.D.’s position.

“This city will be transparent, this city will not cover up, this city will do exactly what is necessary to make sure that all rights are protected.”

That should be the motto of every sworn police officer and elected official in the United States. This does not mean you have to sacrifice cops to the criminal justice system whenever there is an officer involved shooting, but it means you have to open up the books and accept the consequences of scrutiny.

There is a cost for our freedom — it should never be a secret police force. 

Girardot is an award-winning former editor and columnist with the Los Angeles News Group. He is co-author of true crime tales "A Taste For Murder" and the soon-to-be released “Betrayal in Blue: The Shocking Memoir of the Scandal that Rocked the NYPD.” Follow him on Twitter@FrankGirardot


 

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