The Article that Teaches Cause and Effect
Erie, PA (February 19, 2017) Screenshot of multimedia project/article "Bridging the Gap Will Improve Police Accountability in Erie, Pennsylvania. (Photo Credit: Lauren Benzo)
On January 23, 2017, Journalist Lauren Benzo released a multimedia project named “Bridging the Gap Will Improve Police Accountability in Erie, Pennsylvania." The purpose of the project was to bring awareness to the fact there is lack of accountability Erie. Therefore, people have to admit that there is a problem in order to move on to ways it can be restored. Lauren Benzo was able to this with the use of text, images, videos, infographics, audio interviews, and suggestions from experts.
“Bridging the Gap Will Improve Police Accountability in Erie, Pennsylvania,” is based on the absence of criminal justice reform, the arrest of Montrice Bolden, new police training tactics, and ways on how to stop the lack of accountability in order to rebuild trust between the Erie Police Department and the urban community.
“Bridging the Gap” gained attention from many people in the Erie area, including fellow journalists, community members, and of course the Erie Police Department. There has been mixed reviews on the project stating the information was bias to an extent, yet there were reviews that were very positive.
Two weeks after the release of the project, Lisa Adams from Erie News Now had an interview with the Erie Police Chief Don Dacus on a program named “The Insider.” They spoke on subjects such as his career in the Erie Police Department, the police department’s relationship with the Afro-American community, and the use of body cameras.
As stated in “Bridging the Gap,” Erie City Council Member Sonya Arrington was very vocal on the use of body cameras and she feels that they are in need. Actually, every expert interviewed for the project stated that the use of body cameras are in fact needed in Erie. They also added that they will not only help the citizens, but also the police officers.
Computer Law & Security Review conducted a study named, “Body-Worn Cameras for Police Accountability: Opportunities and Risks.” It states, “The use of body-worn cameras by police forces around the world is spreading quickly. The resulting mobile and ubiquitous surveillance is often marketed as an instrument for accountability and an effective way of reducing violence, discrimination, or corruption. It also involves remarkable potential for intrusion into the privacy of both individuals and police agents.”
Video Credit: The Insider/Erie News Now
During his interview with Lisa Adams, Erie Police Chief Dacus revealed that the Erie Police Department will not adopt the use of body cameras. At the 11:40 mark of the video, Erie Police Chief Don Dacus stated, “It’s not a crime reduction tool. It is a police-monitoring tool. And when you look at our numbers as far as citizen’s complaints, the whole reason why the DOJ has gone into other cities like Chicago and Ferguson and implemented monitors… to implement body camera… it is to reduce the number of citizen complaints and have officer accountability.”
Lauren Benzo reached out to one of the experts that was interviewed for “Bridging the Gap”. While speaking to Attorney and Social Justice Activist Bryan Stevenson, he stated, “Let’s say the police department agrees on the use of body cameras. No longer will a person be able to claim that a police officer punched or kicked him without cause, when in fact it was that person who initiated the encounter by threatening or attacking the police officer.
Bryan Stevenson also stated, “The contemporaneous record of what occurred should make it clear whether the officer was justified in using force. Everyone has a right to act in self defense. A video presents an unbiased account of the events. It has no motive to lie and no stake in the outcome. It merely records the event as it happens.”
He went on to say, “If a police officer acts lawfully, then he should not be wrongly accused, forced to defend himself and risk a punishment he does not deserve. The camera will provide his defense.”
Stevenson does have a point, but what if there is a low number of complaints being reported to the department. What would actually would be the use of the body cameras? At the 12:00 mark of the interview with Lisa Adams, Erie Police Chief Dacus states, “If you look at our numbers, over the last three years for citizen’s complaints; We are at less than one half of one percent for all of our calls for service. And doesn’t count officer interactions… additional contact every year.”
When speaking to Sonya Arrington for “Bridging the Gap,” she stated that there are people that do have complaints, yet are afraid to go to the Erie Police Department to report the complaints because the person taking the complaint will rip it up after they leave. She also gave some advice by saying if the person making the complaint takes a picture of it before they leave and for some odd reason that complaint is missing, they can pull out the picture to prove that they did make the complaint. Yet, since the complaints are not being reported or entered into the system, it seems as if there is not a problem with police accountability in the city of Erie.
The Erie Reader stated that there will be a public forum on community-police relations on Monday, February 20, 2016 from 6:00 pm to 8 pm at Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School, located at 235 E. 11th Street.
Members from a group that includes 20 concerned citizens and law enforcement professionals that has been meeting every Friday since August of 2016, will participate in the public forum along with City of Erie Police Chief Don Dacus, Erie County District Attorney Jack Danieri, Assistant U.S. Attorney Marshall Piccinini, and other law enforcement representatives from the Erie Bureau of Police, Pennsylvania State Police, and the FBI.
This will be a positive occasion due to these groups meeting together for a common cause, yet as stated in “Bridging the Gap”, in order for change to happen, along with repairing the trust between the citizens and the Erie Police Department; a new approach will have to come into effect. This includes community policing, new police training tactics, breaking down the “Blue Wall of Silence,” strong leadership, and the use of body cameras.