Crime & Punishment

Crime and justice comment and analysis

Archive for March 2010

Citizen journalism lacks context

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By now we have all seen the video of the Victoria police breaking up a nasty fight in the downtown core and during the arrests one police officer is seen kicking two different men.  On the surface, the video looks damning of the officer who has since been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

But on closer inspection it is clear that in the first situation an officer is struggling with one man trying to get him secured and the officer wearing the yellow jacket kicks the individual to get him to stop struggling.  The second is similar in that you can see one officer trying to get handcuffs on the individual who, I should mention, is 6’5″ and 250 lbs.  The kicks are delivered in the context of securing that individual with handcuffs.  As soon as the man puts his left hand behind his back, ostensibly in surrender, there are no further blows struck and the handcuffs are applied.

And here is the problem in a nutshell.  The police are allowed, by law, to use as much force as is necessary to execute their duty.  When they do, they must be prepared to justify that use of force and they are criminally responsible  for any excessive force.  The police know this and accept it as part of their job.  The test in each and every case is the key.

For the purposes of this test, it is impossible to judge simply based on the video.  Whether this officer was justified in using force and indeed, if he was, was the force excessive, are questions which can only be answered in a full and thorough investigation. Which will involve speaking with all involved and putting together a much bigger picture than the video allows.

There’s no question that the advent of citizen journalism means the police have to be very careful in their public interactions.  Long gone are the days when “street justice” can be administered to an uncooperative knob no matter how desperately he begs for a smack in the yap.  We expect our police officers to protect us.  We also expect our police officers to be professional in their dealings. But, the use of force by a police officer is not, in itself, a matter for a public outcry every time something apparently violent is posted on You Tube.

Protecting the public means the police have to go into situations the rest of us would run from.  To do so means they sometimes have to use the force the law allows and what is considered reasonable force is determined on a case by case basis. That determination should never be made on the basis of a few seconds of video taken by a citizen journalist because inevitably the context is not complete.

Leo Knight

Written by Leo Knight

March 28, 2010 at 9:45 pm