TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Camera Phones Focus on Police Misconduct on Los Angeles

Camera Phones Focus on Police Misconduct on Los Angeles

Jill Serjeant (
Thu, 16 Nov 2006 14:10:25 -0600

By Jill Serjeant

One cell phone video shows Los Angeles police beating a man repeatedly
in the face. Another shows a handcuffed, homeless man being blasted
with pepper spray in the face.

A third grainy video has campus police using a Taser stun gun on a
student who refused to leave a Los Angeles university library.

Once regarded as a toy for rich teens, the ubiquitous camera cell
phone is becoming a powerful community tool in the debate about police

Some Los Angeles grass-roots groups are training citizens to use
cameras, video cell phones and the speed and Internet sites like
YouTube to get their voices, and pictures, heard.

"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," said
Sherman Austin, a founder of Cop Watch L.A., which launched its Web
site three months ago.

The three videos shot on cell phones or small recorders capturing Los
Angeles police using apparently excessive force to restrain suspects
all surfaced within a week.

The images recall the 1991 beating of black motorist Rodney King by
four police officers, which was caught by on home video by an
Argentine plumber.


Fifteen years later, black and Latino activists in tough Los Angeles
neighborhoods are leaving nothing to chance.

"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,"
said Austin, 23.

"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

Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton is investigating the
officers' conduct but cautioned against quick conclusions.

"I cannot make judgments based solely on videos or portions of
videos," Bratton said this week.

He contended 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."

Ramona Ripston, executive director of the Southern California chapter
of the ACLU, said the latest incidents underlined the case for more
citizen oversight.

"This police department was a cowboy department, a department that was
very quick on the trigger and it is hard to root out those practices
from the past. That's why the cameras are important," Ripston said.

"If the police were not overreacting there would be no photographs to

Austin, a dreadlocked African-American with a police record, said he
had been detained, followed and framed.

"I don't remember how many times I have been pulled over by police or
had the light shined in face because of the way I look. I am sick and
tired of it. That's why I thought it was necessary to start this
organization because I can't take it any more."

Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.

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