Diop Kamau, a police officer who is African American, has made it his life's purpose to uncover wrongdoing on the part of cops by using hidden microphones and cameras to tape incidents. Some cops say this is impeding their jobs, because they are scared to aggressively treat aggressive perpetrators.
Without this kind of citizen journalism, though -- which most infamously began with the Rodney King beating being videotaped -- many criminals posing as police officers would still be on the streets.
Kamau was inspired to begin to uncover these sorts of abuses, after his father was roughed up after a 1987 traffic stop, according to an article in USA Today. After the incident, he turned to a second career, recording police across the country in often abusive encounters with the public.
Some of the videos made their way to network and cable television. Most recently, new bans are popping up in states that could preclude citizens from videotaping police officers. In Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts, some police have responded by trying to limit such recordings, when they believe those recordings interfere with police actions.
In Maryland, motorcyclist Anthony Graber was charged with felony violations of Maryland's wiretapping law for recording a March 5th encounter with a gun-brandishing state trooper during a traffic stop. The law requires both parties to consent to the recording of a private conversation. Graber faced a maximum 16-year prison sentence if convicted until Horford County Circuit Court Judge Emory Pitt threw out the case September 27th, saying, "Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public."
To continue to have bans like these in states across the country would most certainly be a set-back in what has uncovered a number of police abuses that many citizens have complained about for years but never had concrete evidence to support their claims in court. Community activists have long been preparing young people on how to react to police on stop and frisks and traffic stops and the rules of obtaining badge numbers.
And civilian complaint review boards have monitored police abuse in recent years, but nothing has been as damning as the actual videotapes of police officers abusing citizens that are often first posted to YouTube, and receive so many hits, that mainstream news organizations are forced to cover the stories.
Police officers have long been protected for routine stops by dash cams that are located in their cars, so why would they be wary of private citizens having the same privileges?
Just about every day, it seems, there is fresh video of cops engaged in controversial actions: Police slamming an unarmed man to the street in Denver. A college student thrashed by officers with batons during a University of Maryland basketball victory celebration. An Oakland transit officer fatally shooting an unarmed man on a train platform (which you can watch above).
According to USA Today, while working for his private investigative firm, policeabuse.com, Kamau walked in to the Broward County Sheriff's Office reception area with a hidden camera and found immediate problems with the way officers and employees dealt with the public. Kamau says police routinely provided incorrect information to people or could not answer basic questions about department policy, such as how to file a complaint against police.
The police commander says the incident "sparked a lot of activity" within the agency, leading to changes in public reception area staffing, including retraining. Police officials also invited Kamau to help train new cadets.
Kamau, who helps clients resolve their grievances with police, says he counsels many of them to arm themselves with cameras to support their cases.
"Video is making victims more credible," Kamau says. "If Rodney King would have tried to tell his story without video, nobody would have believed it."