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Police brutality

Camera cell phones are allowing citizens to monitor, record behavior of law enforcement personnel

Thursday, December 07, 2006 by: Jerome Douglas
Tags: police brutality, cell phone cameras, citizen patrol

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(NewsTarget) Cell phone cameras used to be toys for affluent teens and gadget hounds but have now become the standard fare of all cell phone-toting citizens -- and they are now becoming a powerful community tool in the debate about police conduct.

Some Los Angeles political groups are starting to train citizens to use cameras, video cell phones and Internet sites like YouTube to get their voices and pictures heard like never before.

Sherman Austin, founder of Cop Watch L.A., said, "We urge everyone to have a camera on them at all times so if anything happens it can be documented. The concept of patrolling the police is something we are trying to push as a form of direct action."

In fact, three videos shot on cell phones or small video recorders captured Los Angeles police using apparently excessive force to restrain suspects -- and all three videos surfaced within the same week. The video images bring up memories for some of the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney King by four police officers -- which was caught by on home video by an Argentine plumber.

About 15 years later, there are video cameras in tens of millions of cellular phones that people have with them all day, making the documenting of almost any public event easy to perform. As a result, Black and Latino activists in tough Los Angeles neighborhoods are leaving nothing to chance.

Austin says, "We have tried civilian review boards, we have tried going to City Hall and going to the police and all we have seen is more brutality … technology makes it all the easier now. There are little digital cameras you can buy for 20 bucks in a drugstore that take good enough photos in daylight. And then there's the Internet that gets it out there."

L.A. Police Chief William Bratton has said that he is investigating officer conduct from the three cell phone videos just recently captured, but warned against quick conclusions by saying "I cannot make judgments based solely on videos or portions of videos."

Bratton also emphasized that there is no U.S. government agency that "has more policies, procedures, guidelines and independent oversight with respect to use of force than the LAPD." However, Executive director of the Southern California chapter of the ACLU -- Ramona Ripston -- stated that these latest incidents underline the case for more citizen oversight.

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