Policing, it seems, has turned a corner, putting it on a path of increased professionalism, greater public trust and more protection for officers.
The clue was in a recent News story. Amherst Police are upgrading their body cameras and buying more dashboard cameras for squad cars, which will also have cameras showing the back seat. The department is also purchasing enough Tasers to be sure all officers have access to one.
That’s a remarkable development – especially the cameras – in the context of the resistance shown by many police officers within just the past several years. That gear was often seen not just as a threat, but an insult. Plainly, that’s changing and it’s to the benefit of everyone who is not misbehaving, whether police or civilians. This equipment is now basic and should be as routine as a badge and a gun.
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Already, Western New Yorkers have reaped the benefits.
Body cameras helped expose the startling brutality of an Erie County sheriff’s deputy, Kenneth Achtyl, who was ultimately convicted of assaulting a Bills fan who swore at him after a game. They have aided other police, including in the City of Tonawanda, where they cleared officers of false allegations of excessive force.
Equally important, but given less attention, is the need for cameras within police cars. They give a broader view of actions outside the car, creating a record that can identify the guilty and protect the innocent. Similarly, cameras focused on the back seat show the conduct of anyone – often an unwilling passenger – who occupies that space.
Police sometimes worry, not unreasonably, about maintaining public confidence. Yet, the so-called “blue wall of silence” has worked against that essential goal, creating distrust. Body cameras are part of the solution. They can relieve the many honest officers of the pressure to tolerate misconduct that hurts their reputation in the communities they serve.
Part of the reason for this important change in approach may simply be that modern technology has put a video camera in everyone’s pocket. In the past, some officers tried to prevent civilians from recording them in public places, but the effort often boomeranged. Wise police officials understand that such recording are both legal and inevitable. Former Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda instructed his officers that way.
Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer/murderer learned the consequences of 21st century misconduct after a civilian recorded him in the act of killing George Floyd in 2020. It was important for police not just to acknowledge the inevitability of cellphone cameras, but to create their own record of interactions with the public. Like recorded interrogations, that change is improving policing and building stronger relations within their communities.
Amherst police are also investing in Tasers, which can be a nonlethal way of subduing individuals who need to be restrained. The weapons deliver an electric pulse that can temporarily incapacitate a subject, giving officers time to safely restrain them. The plan is to ensure that all uniformed officers have access to one of these weapons.
This is forward-looking policing. Amherst is doing right by its officers and its residents. If any communities or police departments are still hesitating, they aren’t doing themselves any favors.
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