Opinion

The Intelligencer: Should SWAT teams wear blinders

By Mike Myer

Editor

Perhaps we ought to start equipping police SWAT team members with blinders, something like those used on horses to ensure they don’t get “spooked” by something they spot with their peripheral vision.

When SWAT members actually are in dangerous situations, they need to be focused on potential threats – not on Mr. and Ms. Citizen who think it would be fun to use a smart phone to videotape the cops.

Don’t get me wrong: Increasingly, it looks like a good idea for law enforcement officers’ actions to be preserved through some sort of video/audio record.

Had an observer not videotaped the confrontation between a white South Carolina cop and a black motorist a few weeks ago, we might never have known the officer in effect executed the other man – gunning him down while the victim was running.

But I suspect video recordings would in most cases serve to vindicate officers, troopers and deputies accused of wrongdoing. That’s why so many of them are embracing the idea of “body cams.”

There’s a difference between that and something I saw the other day, however. It was a video taken by someone who’d seen a woman using her cell phone to record actions by a SWAT?team of federal marshals. The woman approaches within about 12 feet of the officers, whereupon one of them runs over to her, snatches her phone and throws it to the ground.

Typical police brutality?

No. Anyone who’s been in a truly dangerous situation knows why the cop flew off the handle.

When your safety is in danger – perhaps because your job requires you to confront a dangerous person or situation – the very last thing you want is a distraction. That can get you killed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: How can a newspaper guy, whose photographers insert themselves into law enforcement situations, think this way?

Simple. Cops tend to know the photographers and videographers who show up at crime scenes. They know what we’re doing. They know that if they tell us to back off, we probably will. They can, to a large extent, tune us out.

But as more and more people decide they ought to monitor the cops, there will be more confrontations.

Perhaps law enforcement agencies need to add a new layer of training – how to ignore the busybody with the camera.

Myer can be reached at: [email protected].

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