Police oversight and accountability

Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D.

BY Goliath J. Davis, III, Ph.D., Contributor

ST. PETERSBURG — Community oversight of the police has long been an issue. Members of African-American communities across America, along with diverse groups of participants to include law enforcement officers, are currently engaged in marches and protests calling for police reform. Enlightened police executives, supervisors, and line officers have embraced the movement and are working with protesters to implement some recommended changes.

Among the changes called for are body cameras.  Some will say I have a body cam fixation given a call for their implementation by the St. Petersburg Police Department appears in all of my recent writings.  As a former police officer and police executive, I concur with protesters that cameras are effective tools to ensure police oversight and accountability.

Given their use across the country and in the Tampa Bay area, I find no credible reason not to use them.  The rationale against their use articulated by Chief Anthony Holloway and some city council members I have spoken with does not pass muster.  Police agencies, the legal community, and other professional police organizations have developed model policies that inform agency use and implementation.

In a recent communique to the members of St. Petersburg’s City Council, the president of the police union (PBA) admonished council members for a perceived lack of support by police executive staff, officers and union members stating: “They see who is standing with and supporting the police and those who are NOT supporting the police.”

The tone of the admonishment was threatening when evaluated in the context of council members being elected officials who vie for union endorsements when seeking office. The implied threat was council members not voicing support need not seek future PBA endorsements.

One can understand the pressures officers face nightly/daily managing the protests, and it appears odd police and city leadership have yet to meet effectively with protesters for resolution.  Ironically, some may have forgotten two critical points.

First, Mayor Rick Kriseman, who reportedly has bigger issues to address, and council members are elected by and serve the citizens of St. Petersburg. They should not allow themselves to be drawn into wedge politics.

The second important point is a call for police reform, and improvement is not synonymous with non-support. In fact, continuous improvement is and should be a core component of police professionalism.

St. Petersburg police executives, officers, and union members should embrace reform and change consistent with valued service to St. Petersburg communities, and prove wrong those who think police unions are impediments to change.  Police body cameras are needed technological tools for oversight and accountability.

I encourage the PBA to join with the executive staff and together support the community’s call for their implementation.

I often wonder how anyone can sit and watch the atrocities aired and reported by local and national media and not be moved ethically and morally to corrective action.

I challenge our elected and appointed officials in St. Petersburg to honor the promises made when they sought office and the constituent wishes of the African-American communities — the communities most likely to be victimized by police improprieties.

One might argue we have not had any George Floyd episodes in St. Petersburg; therefore, we do not need to embrace the body camera reform.  I submit effective leadership is diagnostic, forward-thinking and prescriptive.

Effective leadership doesn’t wait for a problem to emerge; rather, it anticipates and takes proactive measures. We buy insurance policies with the realization that we may not need them at the time of purchase, but will be prepared when and if the need arises.

Body cameras are accountability insurance policies against police malpractice and false allegations against police officers.

The effectiveness of police body cameras is undeniable. The most powerful testament to their anticipated efficacy in the City of St. Petersburg rests with the staunch, persistent opposition by St. Petersburg’s leadership, both elected and law enforcement.

Why such resistance to protecting our communities and our police officers?  Body cameras are police accountability insurance policies. We must not miss this opportunity to purchase and implement them.

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