The right to remain silent is one reserved for those who are suspected of committing a crime, but what happens when the arresting officer is the one whose words are used against them?
A Phoenix police officer recently lost his job after allegations the officer was verbally abusive toward suspects. The initial claim that lead to an internal investigation came from the mother of a suspect the officer encountered in 2011. The mother made claims the officer was both physically and verbally abusive to her son during the police encounter.
A valley news source, AZ Central, said the footage from the incident captures officer Richard Greco cursing at suspects and witnesses, and making disparaging remarks about them to other officers, including referring to one as “retarded,” calling another a “jack*ss” and another a “b*tch.”
While Greco claims that the instances where he used inappropriate language toward suspects were isolated, an internal investigation decided to review 30 days of the officer’s camera footage. The video footage revealed multiple instances of the officer’s misconduct. The Phoenix Police Department concluded the officer’s repeated offenses and inappropriate tactics were used enough to validate his termination. AZ Central claimed the decision to terminate Greco also involved the 2008 disciplinary action Greco received for making inappropriate comments about female co-workers in the presence of other police officers.
So what does this mean now for other police officers?
“Police officers should always try to adhere to the policies and procedures set out,” said John M. Rhude, Esq. “Video cameras or no video cameras, law enforcement officers should be held accountable for their actions and professionalism.”
Big Brother is Watching
The investigation of Richard Greco has opened the door for questions and concerns about the constant and continued presence of video cameras. On one end of the argument, the cameras ensure police officers will comply with policies and any disputes can be solved with accurate evidence. On the other end, the cameras can be viewed as a tool to provide police supervisors with a way to isolate incidents of officers’ misbehavior.
In an AZ Central interview with Sgt. Trent Crump, the police spokesman brought up a compelling point in the argument of the hinderance versus helpfulness of police camera footage. He states cameras are out there, whether they are the cellphones of suspects, witnesses or they are worn by the police, and the technology is not going anywhere, so police should learn to work as if they are always being watched.
But are police officers really always being “watched”?
The answer to that question is no. In Arizona, dashboard cameras that are utilized by other states are very uncommon. In most cases there are no cameras in Arizona police cars. Why? In DUI cases, the video usually weakens the case. The field sobriety tests and the conduct of the accused driver is never as bad on video as it is when described in the words of the officer in a police report. So because of that reality, all of the dashboard cameras were removed from patrol vehicles”
“This type of case proves that cameras may be a necessary to ensure the fair treatment of all parties involved,” Christopher P. Corso, Esq. “It’s not necessarily about mistrust, it’s about doing what is right with or without supervision.”
Mounting a Defense
Another concern with these cameras occurs when you contemplate their role in a court case. From a defense standpoint, it can be very difficult to determine if the camera was used or not.
Since policies don’t dictate that the cameras have to be turned on even when available, the state can claim that there is no video footage and the defense may never get a chance to see the footage or any of the exculpatory evidence that might be contained in the footage.From a criminal defense standpoint, that means the defense attorney has to rely on the candor of the officer involved.
It’s easy to see the issues that can arise when camera footage is available for an incident. It’s yet another sign of changing times and it illustrates how important it is that your lawyer stay on top of changes in the law regarding such technologies.
One thing remains clear: though Greco’s trial is over, the question still remains: is it unfair to use specific instances of a police officer’s misconduct against them?