Discussions between the newly revived Police Oversight Committee and Police Department officials seem to have gotten off to a productive start, but they have to stay focused on the urgent need to change what appears to be a long-standing culture that has allowed a few “bad apples” to continue as police officers.
It is a culture brought to light in the videotaped kicking of a man on the ground in handcuffs April 19 in Riverside, and actions following a May 11 assault on an Air National Guard member in a University Heights bar. Witnesses said that off-duty officers at the bar dragged the unconscious and critically injured victim out of the bar, where he was handcuffed.
Indeed, those incidents woke the Common Council’s dormant Police Oversight Committee, which quickly got to work.
Council President Darius G. Pridgen asked Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda to determine whether installing cameras in police cars is feasible. It certainly seems to be a reasonable idea. The technology is relatively inexpensive these days and it protects good cops who are falsely accused as well as rooting out the bad ones.
Were it not for the recording of the Riverside incident on a bystander’s cellphone and his refusal to hand over the recording when demanded by an officer, the public likely would never have known about the incident. And images captured on the bar surveillance camera of the bar manager and one of the off-duty officers following the University Heights incident have raised numerous questions.
To the commissioner’s credit, his department has been, as he said, “very, very proactive on discipline.” Many of the investigations into bad behavior by officers are initiated by the department. Such bad behavior doesn’t come cheap. The city must pay for court settlements to victims of police misconduct.
Derenda has tackled injured-on-duty abuses that grew under previous commissioners. He has invited federal agencies into his shop, including the recent kicking incident involving one of his officers.
The Council made clear that the Police Oversight Committee would not be an investigative body. And members made clear that they believe the vast majority of officers do the right thing.
But they are serving an important purpose by asking important questions.