Police conduct is usually reviewed in court, after the fact, by using people’s memory and notes taken at the time. Our justice system depends on the testimony of police officers to operate. There have been many incidents of police officers lying about what occurred at arrests or during incidents.
Famously, Robert Dziekański was killed on October 14, 2007, in an incident involving a number of police officers. All of the officers offered the same story about what had actually happened. However, a video of the incident surfaced showing that the police officers’ version of events was not accurate. The fact that all of the officers came up with exactly the same wrong story shows that, in this particular case, the officers were not telling a version that was true, and the version they recalled seemed to serve their best interests rather than relieving the truth.
Had there been no video of Dziekanski’s interaction with police, the world may have believed the false and inaccurate testimony of a number of officers. Assertions that the police colluded and lied would have been very difficult to successfully advance.
Constable Kwesi Millington was convicted of perjury and colluding with other officers prior to giving testimony at an inquiry and sentenced to a 30 month custodial sentence. The other three officers are still working as police officers in Canada.
Robert Dziekanski’s case shows the difficulty in undermining the credibility of police testimony, and the reluctance of the system to find as a fact that a police officer is lying.
The following is a recent incident caught on video by someone in Toronto of police beating up a man, Santokh Bola. The police in the video outnumber the person they are beating and repeatedly strike him about his body, head and face. It looks like he had been subdued very early in the beating, and the police carry on inflicting damage for a purpose the could be something other than controlling or arresting him.
Police say that the video doesn’t show the whole story (from CBC), and are arguing that the use of force was justified. No charges were laid against Mr. Bola. Police said he matched the description of another suspect.
Even with the video, Mr. Bola has a long road ahead of him if he hopes that charges will be laid against the officers that beat him. If the video didn’t exist, it is possible that Mr. Bola’s version of events and testimony could very well not have been preferred to the testimony of numerous officers at the scene.
People seem to have decided that it’s time to start video taping the police. If you are being arrested, or are a witness to an arrest, then you are probably better off if you have a tape of the interaction. My advice is to always be cooperative and polite when interacting with police. However, having a video or audio recording of the interaction may afford you some protection if the police breach you rights or lie about what happened.
One last point. If Constable Millington had known about the video, he may have been able to tailor his evidence to match the tape. The fact that Milllington put his version on the record before becoming aware there was a video meant that when the video surfaced, it was too late for him to change his story.