Citizen journalism lacks context


By now we have all seen the video of the Victoria police breaking up a nasty fight in the downtown core and during the arrests one police officer is seen kicking two different men.  On the surface, the video looks damning of the officer who has since been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

But on closer inspection it is clear that in the first situation an officer is struggling with one man trying to get him secured and the officer wearing the yellow jacket kicks the individual to get him to stop struggling.  The second is similar in that you can see one officer trying to get handcuffs on the individual who, I should mention, is 6’5″ and 250 lbs.  The kicks are delivered in the context of securing that individual with handcuffs.  As soon as the man puts his left hand behind his back, ostensibly in surrender, there are no further blows struck and the handcuffs are applied.

And here is the problem in a nutshell.  The police are allowed, by law, to use as much force as is necessary to execute their duty.  When they do, they must be prepared to justify that use of force and they are criminally responsible  for any excessive force.  The police know this and accept it as part of their job.  The test in each and every case is the key.

For the purposes of this test, it is impossible to judge simply based on the video.  Whether this officer was justified in using force and indeed, if he was, was the force excessive, are questions which can only be answered in a full and thorough investigation. Which will involve speaking with all involved and putting together a much bigger picture than the video allows.

There’s no question that the advent of citizen journalism means the police have to be very careful in their public interactions.  Long gone are the days when “street justice” can be administered to an uncooperative knob no matter how desperately he begs for a smack in the yap.  We expect our police officers to protect us.  We also expect our police officers to be professional in their dealings. But, the use of force by a police officer is not, in itself, a matter for a public outcry every time something apparently violent is posted on You Tube.

Protecting the public means the police have to go into situations the rest of us would run from.  To do so means they sometimes have to use the force the law allows and what is considered reasonable force is determined on a case by case basis. That determination should never be made on the basis of a few seconds of video taken by a citizen journalist because inevitably the context is not complete.

Leo Knight

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  1. Agreed. Its not just citizen “journalism”, people in general constantly take everything out of context.

    Just let them do their jobs, it’s not like it was a “Rodney King” event. Perhaps the difference is simple demographics. And their jobs are difficult enough with continuous threat to be extremely careful about, without the aggravation afterwards due to scrutiny over every insignificant detail. Its no wonder why “the accused” have it so easy to escape correction.

    However, having video should be a boon to everybody. When officers begin using their video devices, they can show “what really happened” in full context; and then with extra vantage points, it should help with conviction where an accused clearly is resisting arrest, or tried to toss a bag, or pass a prohibited device to an associate, etc. Officers shouldn’t have to fear video recording devices after they carry their own, from events such as this one.

    In other cases, such as in London last year regarding the student that had his cheekbone crushed during an arrest, without the video there wouldn’t have been any evidence of that happening. I don’t think it is procedure to place your knee on someone’s head and then spin around like that. On the neck is okay, its a no-handed restraint. And some leeway should be given where the officer involved was either in condition red or possibly condition black, losing fine motor-skills; that however, could indicate a lack of training.

    Back to the original discussion from your post about the accused being kicked, the officer was well within his boundaries. He could have tasered him, or implemented a truncheon. Imagine the outrage! It’s ridiculous, people seem to think they are entitled to not be arrested or something. Simply comply with orders, whats so hard about that, unless he’s wacked out on some kind of drugs or he’s drunk, in which case more force is definitely required. Camera’s don’t have an intoxication meter, unfortunately.

  2. Speaking of citizen journalism, I wonder if you would enlighten a lot of the commenters on Dustin Lafortune’s Facebook site on police procedures in a case like his and how things can go sideways if there’s too much information out there, etc. It would be a good blog post anyway. I am concerned for the family, but also for police procedures and the investigation and for the family not getting justice if there is a technicality caused by things like citizen journalists digging around, etc. The commenters keep bemoaning slow police procedures, etc., and I would be curious as to any insight that you have.


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