Video Provides Look Into Policing

A recent Liberty on Tour video gives a good look at how government policing works. In their August 9, 2010 post Edgewater Police Officer Intimidates LOT’s Mueller for Filming, they present an eight minute video that shows an officer acting through intimidation, and how other officers respond.

An unorthodox crowd has gathered in an area open to the public – in this case, tuners and bikers showing off their vehicles with others who share their interests. When the officer who initiated the encounter was asked if anyone was being hurt he replied, “That’s not the point – we got called.” If police were called, that would mean someone decided that a disagreement over the use of a parking lot was best solved by calling the police.

When the officer gets off his motorcycle he immediately acts to intimidate the person holding a camera in a parking lot open to the public. He walks toward him in an aggressive manner, then closely follows him while speaking in a threatening tone.

During an exchange at the end of the video, the motorcycle officer states that the point of his behavior was to “intimidate” the camera holder so he would “back off.” When the camera holder asked what he was supposed to back off from, the cop answered filming the “nonsense” in the parking lot that wasn’t hurting anybody.

It should be noted that the officer got off of his bike and approached the camera holder when he appeared to notice that the camera was obviously pointed at him.

To an officer whose mindset is to control the situation by intimidating anyone present into obedience, a challenge to his power is viewed as a threat. And it is very possible that he will threaten physical force in response.

As the cop is walking back towards his motorcycle, a couple tells him about an individual who appears to be passed out. The two Liberty on Tour activists then talk to other officers who respond to the emergency. These cops appear concerned for the privacy of the individual laying on the ground and act in a much less aggressive manner than the motorcycle officer.

However, when the police supervisor was shown video footage of the exchange with the motorcycle officer, he said that since he was not there he will not comment on the officer’s actions. If the cameraman had done anything that would reasonably provoke the officer’s aggressive attitude – even acted in a discourteous manner – the police officer would likely have said something about it in the video. The supervisor says that the event will be internally investigated if the camera operator files a complaint.

As numerous stories at and show, internal investigations often fail to yield concrete results (though the hassle might sometimes be worth it). If cops will not hold other cops accountable for bad behavior, that will encourage more bad behavior by police. If external pressure is exerted on police forces through videotaping and public commentary, that might compel positive actions.

The motorcycle officer explained his behavior by saying that he worked a 16 hour day and the people who hang out there annoy him. This could certainly make a person angry, but will a cop be held accountable if he takes out his anger on a regular citizen who “just happened to be in the line of fire” – especially if the cameras are turned off?

There are services that police provide. Responding to a man passed out wouldn’t seem to require the amount of forces there to control the situation. But if there was a disagreement between parking lot owners and several individuals in the parking lot, it could be beneficial for a third party to intervene. But is creating a hostile environment by entering a situation with threats instead of with questions the best way to do that?

Policing among equals, not enforced deference to those who wear badges, would likely be less incentivized toward disruptive and hostile behavior. But this goes against the cult of professionalism, where designated “approved” people answer to internal regulations, not to the external public. And tribal loyalty to the Thin Blue Line probably does not encourage treating people as individuals.

Individuals taking action to hold others accountable, and speaking their mind even in intimidating scenarios are taking positive steps toward freedom. And the communication that Liberty on Tour fosters can show people the benefit of libertarian alternatives to statist monopoly and coercive hierarchy.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory