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Why Do I Feel Like Somebody's Watching Me?

By Randall Grantham Community Columnist April 22, 2015

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you.
The Police

I remember way back in 1981 when "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the very first music video played on MTV, the upstart cable TV music-video channel. I don’t know what the song writers meant by the lyrics, but it was pretty clear the subliminal message that MTV was trying to convey: We are the new thing. Broadcasting plain old music over the air waves was passe. It was yesterday’s cool. Now we have music VIDEOS!

Today, a new video has killed the way things had been done in the past.  No longer are we limited to hearing only what the police, the news media  and those in authority say to each other or report in as factual.  We can now see instant video of events in almost realtime.

From bombings in Boston to tsunamis in the Pacific, meteorites in Russia and police stops and arrests throughout the country.  Combining the advent of the ever-present cell phone videos with the growing use and affordability of private surveillance cameras and on-person police cameras, we can see things as they really were, not as someone might try to spin them for their own purposes.

Videos have always scared those in authority.  Does anybody remember the broadcast reports of Vietnam?  It was largely those video feeds from the war, seen in the comfort of our own living rooms, depicting in vivid color the carnage and violence, that turned the country against that conflict.  It was one thing to read reports about the deaths or to see war movies with valiant soldiers defending our country.  It was quite another to see the real thing.

You may also recall that was the last time we were allowed to get the unedited, unscripted moving picture reports from correspondents who were able to show it like it was.  The powers that be learned their lesson.  No such reporting was allowed in any of the conflicts since.  The government who controls the news, controls the views.  Or, as the lyrics of another song says, “When they own the information, they can bend it all they want.”

Up until recently, law enforcement "owned the information" and were able to limit what we heard when it came to their activities.  There have been dash-cams available for years, but many agencies decided that they “got in the way” and used the excuse that they were too expensive or unreliable to avoid their use. When, in fact, they simply didn’t like what the video portrayed.  

In fact, a few years ago one local agency directed their officers to stop video taping DUI arrests because they were losing too many cases when the jury could see with their own eyes what actually happened rather than hear it only from the mouth of the officer who had a vested interest in protecting “their” arrest and recited the same “slurred voice, bloodshot eyes, strong smell of alcohol” boiler plate in every case.

And several years ago I represented a guy charged with possession of a large amount of drugs who had been the subject of a search warrant executed by the SWAT unit, also know as the Dynamic Entry Team. They testified that they approached the front door, they politely knocked, announcing their presence and authority and waited patiently for a response. When none was forthcoming, they made their “dynamic” entry.

VCR’s were fairly new at the time and the cops decided they would use one to film the entry. I got the video and played it for the court.  Needless to say, it depicted a totally different situation: Bust open the door, throw in an explosive device and holler “police, search warrant.”  The evidence was thrown out of court.

That was the first, and last, time the sheriff video-taped the execution of a search warrant.

And they also caught on pretty quickly to the fact that whatever was said on radio to each other on the street, or to and from dispatch, was recorded and could (and was) obtained by defense lawyers to sometimes contradict the formal version of what happened, when. 

Cell phones, at first, became a tool to avoid any memorialization and preservation of their conversations.  “Don’t talk to me on the radio, call my cell.”  There was no way that could be used against anyone. 

Now it’s a different story.  The radio log of Officer Slager relaying how the now-dead traffic violator had grabbed his taser, forcing the officer to shoot him, was quite convincingly disputed by the cell phone video taken by a stander-by. The officer’s attempts to recreate history on his radio did not work out as he planned. The video killed the radio log.

And the 70-something CEO who was a acting as a reserve officer when he accidentally shot a guy he meant to taser is forever preserved on the on-officer recorder.  Wannabe cops should not be out there running around with tasers, much less guns. Let them stick to their parking ticket books.

Maybe now these guys will think twice (or even once) before they act as judge, jury and executioner, figuring that what we don’t know can’t hurt them. Because now they know, Big Brother, or are we Little Brother, is watching. Film at eleven...

(Randall C. Grantham is a fifth generation Floridian and lifelong resident who practices law from his offices on Dale Mabry Highway in Lutz . He can be reached at Copyright 2015 RCG)