Reveal – Law and Disorder Part 2: Citizens, cameras and cops

By Julia B. Chan, Reveal

In part 2 of Reveal’s in-depth look at law and disorder, we expose some of the tensions between police and the communities they serve and how video cameras are dramatically changing the public’s relationship with law enforcement.

In Washington, D.C., we examine why there’s been a huge increase in the number of people charged with assaulting a police officer. We teamed up with WAMU and American University to examine three years of court cases and found that the people being charged often are the ones who end up in the hospital.

We also explore what happens when police and communities keep an eye on each other. Officers patrol the streets watching for crime, but now citizens are using video cameras to monitor police. We tag along with “cop watchers” in Texas.

And citizens aren’t the only ones getting into the game: We investigate the consequences of private companies storing evidence captured by police body cameras.

Finally, we look back and talk to the man who some say pioneered citizen journalism when he recorded the Los Angeles police beating of Rodney King in 1991.


Assault on justice

When you hear the charge “assaulting a police officer,” you might assume that an officer has been hurt or injured while serving the community. But in Washington, D.C., you might not be able to take so-called APOs at face value.

Reporter Patrick Madden of WAMU found that the charge of assaulting a police officer, which is meant to shield police from danger, also can be used as a tactic against citizens.


Students at the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University and WAMU researched 2,000 cases to see where most APO charges go down in D.C. Check out the map they made to see where these arrests took place. Notice that concentrations occur in the central part of the urban area and in predominantly black neighborhoods in the Southeast.

Nine out of 10 people charged were African American, even though half of the district’s population is black.



Eyes on cops

Smartphones have turned virtually everyone into a filmmaker. This has meant that many people’s reaction to an event large or small is to whip out their phone and start recording. So what separates these everyday citizens from people who consider themselves “cop watchers?”

Cop watchers are a loose band of activists who consider it their job to police the police. They’ll show up at traffic stops or hang out in areas with a large police presence so they can document the activities of police.

You now can find cop-watching groups in dozens of cities across the country. But some officers are starting to push back, saying these groups interfere with their jobs and endanger the public.

Neena Satija, who works for Reveal and The Texas Tribune, takes us to places where tensions between cops and cop watchers have started to flare up. In Texas cities like Austin and Dallas, activists are being arrested, and police departments are asking state lawmakers to step in.

Public evidence in private hands

Body cameras can capture evidence against criminals, with a potentially exonerating or damning record of evidence for law enforcement officers.

In the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, more than 7,000 police agencies around the country have purchased body cameras with the help of federal grants.

Reveal reporters Ali Winston and Amy Walters take a look inside the camera, at the evidence trail left behind. Because where there are a lot of video cameras, there’s a lot of information – and money.

Winston and Walters head to Seattle to find out how Taser International Inc., an industry leader in body cameras, plans to manage this massive cloud of video data.


Rodney King’s accidental ally

On March 3, 1991, a black man was pulled over in Los Angeles – and what happened next showed the entire nation what police brutality looks like.

George Holliday, a man just looking to test a new video camera, ended up capturing a critical 81 seconds of Rodney King’s life. Eighty-one seconds in which Los Angeles police officers hit King more than 50 times with fists and batons. King’s beating is one of the most famous acts of police violence in modern American history.

Our host Al Letson talks to Holliday, the man behind the camera that night 24 years ago. We hear about what happened that evening, how he feels about the role he played in pioneering citizen journalism and his thoughts on capturing police misbehavior on video today.



For more, check out our website to delve deeper into these stories, and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes so you never miss a beat. More of a social type? Follow Reveal on Twitter and Facebook.

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