Dueling cameras

November 13, 2006

If a few West Baltimore residents think that videotaping police on the street is the way to keep cops honest, then film away. But we doubt seriously that these videographers will have any lasting impact on police behavior. There are too few of them, and they're not the first to come up with this idea. Theirs is a hit-or-miss, catch-them-if-you-can operation aimed at intimidating police, not policing them.

Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm had the right response to the videotaping: "If our people aren't following our rules and procedures, we want to know." In the past, video footage has proved decisive in allegations of police misconduct. The 1990 beating of motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police was captured on video, footage that painfully illustrated the racial tensions between the black community and the police.

The three videographers interviewed in West Baltimore recently by The Sun's Annie Linskey seem to have taken up their hand-held cameras as a challenge to the police surveillance cameras recording events in the area of Mosher Street and Fremont Avenue: "You take my picture, I'm going to take your picture," is how one resident put it. The cameramen are selective in what they film, choosing to ignore the corner drug dealing occurring in plain view. How does that help improve the community or its relationship with the police? One of the trio doesn't even live in the city; he calls Reisterstown home.

The fact that citizens are filming the police - or any other municipal worker - doesn't surprise us. It's a wonder more picture-taking isn't going on considering the prevalence of video cell phones. Public employees should account for their actions and be held accountable. Citizens also must be responsible and take their complaints to police officials. Dueling cameras won't solve the city's crime problem - unless they're filming the criminals.

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