2 August 2011

New Zealanders  have confidence in a uniform. This is shown in a range of surveys where respondents indicate much higher levels of trust in firefighters, rescue workers, police,  nurses and the military than in most other occupations – and dramatically more confidence than they have in politicians and the media.

This may reflect admiration for the risky nature of these roles.  We see these workers in life and death situations.  They face higher stakes than many of us. When things go wrong, they can do so dramatically.  The Independent Police Conduct Authority investigates the situations when policing has gone wrong. Instances where suspected offenders are shot, die in pursuit-related car crashes, or are roughly subdued where there is public disorder could well diminish public trust. But they seem to have minimal influence. The public wants to believe in the Police commitment to the community.

There is widespread capability to upset this belief if it is unfounded. Almost everyone seems to have a camera on their cell phone. Poor policing would inevitably be filmed and, in no time, feature on You Tube. Badly behaved cops would inevitably gain an online notoriety. But it doesn’t happen.

In some parts of the United States where polarised policing reflects polarised societies, filming police at work is prohibited.  Video footage seems to be unwelcome if it discloses police violence.

A web article comments that “in at least three states, it is illegal to record any on-duty police officer, even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists. …Illinois, Massachusetts and Maryland are among the 12 states where all parties must consent for a recording to be legal. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested and charged with a felony.”  This seems seems a strange restriction in the land of the free…