There are compelling arguments for and not many against letting police officers see video and hear audio before being interviewed by internal affairs. This is a new policy included in the contract approved earlier this month between the city and the police union, but it also is a national trend.
Perhaps the only meaningful argument against this policy just happens to be the big one — that it gives officers a special privilege not extended to persons of interest in a police investigation.The opinion piece concluded by decrying a similar provision in Texas' new body cam legislation, whose regulation of camera use Grits has also criticized.
It's important to note the distinction between an internal affairs inquiry and a criminal investigation. An internal affairs investigation focuses on officers' behavior as employees answerable to their employer and to the public. That's a marked difference from an investigation into whether officers violated the law while on the job and should be charged with a crime.
But what if an officer ends up being investigated in both contexts? The officer has had the opportunity to get his or her story straight based on the video/audio evidence he or she was allowed to see and hear.
Needless to say, that's not an opportunity extended to civilians questioned in criminal investigations — even those who haven't attained the status of person of interest. The potential discrepancies between their stories and facts not revealed to them before being questioned, including video not shown to them, are considered part of the evidence-gathering — a valuable part because discrepancies can make someone appear guilty. Discrepancies can be portrayed as lies because sometimes they are.
That so-called game of gotcha is exactly what the proponents of the new video preview policy for officers say shouldn't be part of the internal affairs process. They want a level of fairness that isn't extended to civilians questioned by police.
A new state law providing grants for body cameras includes a provision that officers view a video before giving a statement. The law could be touted as an all-around victory for transparency. It encourages more body cameras and therefore more video evidence, and it is the pinnacle of openness with the involved officers.Unfortunately, the paper's disapprobation comes too little, too late. The city and police union have already adopted the language governing bodycams in the recently signed meet and confer agreement, which would have benefited from media scrutiny as it was happening instead of after the fact. At this point, the Legislature could take up the matter before the City of Corpus gets the chance to revisit the issue, which can't happen until the meet-and-confer agreement expires.
But defense attorneys whose clients are civilians are duty-bound to ask, why them and not us? It doesn't take a legal scholar or an oracle to foresee one of these defense attorneys winning a Miranda-like victory at the Supreme Court level someday based on that question. "They didn't show me the video" could supplant "they didn't read me my rights" as a prosecution-killer.
The arguments in favor of police having this privilege are no different for anyone else.