Just because there is a video of cops on Facebook does not mean something bad happened.
That’s a lesson Syracuse needs to learn.
The Salt City is in a tizzy today over a Saturday-morning social-media post that showed video of Syracuse police officers taking a man into custody and appearing to grab the phoneof another man video recording the incident.
But before that, the context.
It was Friday evening, at Skiddy Park, and police had intel that a marijuana dealer was selling and selling big. Consequently, the department launched an operation to investigateand act.
And so it was that there were cameras and officers secreted in and near the park.
There was also a drug dealer. And the video you won’t see on the evening news is of him selling pot in a park that’s supposed to be a refuge and escape for families and children.
A lot of pot.
And then the police moved on him.
And it was a foot race, with him trying to ditch an illegal handgun as he ran.
But they caught him, and they recovered the gun, and they seized a lot of pot.
That’s a big deal. And a good number of Syracuse’s finest responded to the park as the incident was being cleaned up.
Which was what was happening when a car low-balled alongside the assortment of black-and-whites clustered at the park. Five miles an hour. Windows open. Music thundering. Thumpity,thumpity, thumpity.
In a neighborhood where residents have identified exactly that sort of noise as something they want police to do something about – noise which is in clear violation of city ordinance.
Cruising slow-mo past a fair number of the city’s on-duty police officers.
Syracuse Police Investigating Friday Incident That Has Gone Viral
That’ll get you stopped.
And a few blocks away, on Oswego Street, that’s exactly what happened.
That’s how the first officer in the video came to be on camera.
He made the stop, he approached the vehicle, he made contact.
And he repeatedly asked the driver to exit the vehicle. The driver refused. So the officer opened the door and took him out.
That’s all on video. The refusal to exit the vehicle, the resistance and struggle.
All on a cell-phone video taken by the passenger, who leaned over into the driver’s seat and was recording out the still-open door.
In the background, as officers struggle with the driver, one or more police cars arrive.
That gets back to the context. There were plenty of police at Skiddy Park, dispersing as their duties took them elsewhere. When the call came in of the stop, and of the resisting,there were plenty of police in close proximity and they responded immediately.
One of them is the man with the shaved head who is the second officer recognizable in the video.
He sees the struggle, quickly leaves his cruiser, and – as he arrives at the subject car – the first officer, still struggling with the driver, barks out, “Secure him!” in referenceto the passenger.
That’s when you see the guy with the shaved head make visual contact with the passenger and his camera. That officer then quickly moves along the left front quarter panel, infront of the vehicle, and then along the right front quarter panel to the passenger’s door, where a hand reaches in and, on the video posted on Facebook, the recording stops.
What has appeared problematic about the second officer’s conduct is that he appears to take the phone and stop the recording, and because it looks like, as he runs around thefront of the car, that he holds his hand over his body camera, to obstruct its view.
But, as it turns out, according to accounts from the scene, that’s not what happened.
Let’s take it in chronological order.
When given the command to “Secure him!” in a dynamic situation in which one subject is struggling with officers, the second officer reasonably concluded that the passenger mightbe dangerous and moved resolutely to him. That set the tenor and tone.
Now, the body cam, and what he was doing with it.
The body-worn cameras recently issued to Syracuse police officers have two controls. An on-off power switch on top, and an on-off camera button on the front.
The officer with the shaved head was reportedly leaving the Skiddy Park scene with evidence to be taken to police headquarters. He was not in contact with citizens and, consistentwith department policy, turned his body camera off, via the switch on top – which conserves battery life.
As he moves around the car, directly into contact with a citizen, policy required him to have his camera on. And that hand over its face is not covering its lens, it is turningit on. First the sliding switch on top, to power it, and then the push button on the front, to make it start recording.
That’s what his hand was doing.
That scenario is substantiated by the fact that the officer uses his left hand – which had been on the camera – to take hold of the passenger’s phone. That means that by the timethere was actual contact with the citizen, the camera was on and operating and unobstructed – and that video footage is in the custody of the Syracuse Police Department.
And then, what about the passenger’s camera?
It was never turned off.
The passenger, who was completely cooperative with police, placed it, with the officer, on the dash, face down, where it continued to record audio for the rest of the incident,when it was turned off by the passenger.
The passenger, as shown on unreleased police body camera footage, was very compliant. He exited the vehicle, was patted down, handcuffed without incident and sat quietly on thesidewalk while things were sorted out.
At the end of the incident, his undamaged phone with its unerased video was returned to him.
That was Friday night.
Twelve hours later the phone video was on Facebook.
And the crap hit the fan.
Because the crap always hits the fan when there’s video of police. It’s a conditioned response. The activists and the reporters and the politicians all know their parts.
But this one is all smoke and no fire.
Because there is absolutely nothing in this video that is in anyway inappropriate or out of line, at least on the part of the police.
The police, in a justified stop like this, do have the right to order you out of your car. Hopefully the Syracuse police chief will remind the community of that. If you refuse,the police can remove you. If you resist, you will be taken to the ground and handcuffed.
The first cop did nothing whatsoever wrong.
And neither did the second cop.
He secured an unknown subject in a volatile and dynamic situation. He made sure that his body camera was working. He did not stop the citizen’s recording of the incident, nordid he seek to get rid of what had already been recorded. He and the second subject dealt with the one another in a fashion that was appropriate and a credit to them both.
There was a video. It showed a guy being a jerk to the police. But the police did nothing wrong.
And if I can get to the bottom of that in a couple of hours, so can the mayor and the chief.
And the sooner they stand up and say so, the better.
There is no controversy in this matter. But silence in the face of activists’ indignation is not being even handed, it is being cowardly.
The Syracuse Police Department is a professional organization.
This video shows that.
And the mayor and the chief should say so.
Before tonight’s 6 o’clock news.