What Walter Scott really needed.

Starting with the obvious, what happened to Walter Scott was nothing short of terrible. A tragedy that absolutely could have been avoided. Why is a tech blog speaking about Walter, and his story? Because South Carolina Police think technology might be the answer.

Short version:

You cannot expect that strapping cameras to Police officers will be accepted as a step forward when dealing with the safety of all people on a day to day basis. They’re cameras, not super powers. Not some sort of morality device that makes you choose the most moral option for the given circumstances. We need real change in the form of training, screening, and continuing education.

Long version:

In South Carolina, a man named Walter Scott was murdered. Sounds pretty cut and dry, right? It’s a pretty simple case until you realize that the criminal was a Police officer, and that the whole scenario escalated from a routine check for a brake light that wasn’t working.

Once the officer pulled Walter over for the brake light, he realized that he had outstanding child support payments and a warrant for his arrest. This is when Walter decided to run. All of this seems like a routine thing that might happen to any police officer, on any given shift. This is after all, what police do.

Once the foot chase started, this scenario moved from a routine traffic check, to a murder. This is the point where the officer claimed a genuine fear for his own life, and that Walter was trying to take the officers taser from him. This is the point where Walter Scott was shot at eight times, and hit five while running away. This is the point where while Walter was laying on the ground, dead or dying, the police officer proceeded to “arrest” Walter Scott. This is when a murder was committed.

The police officer must have known he did something wrong when he proceeded to place the taser by Walter’s body. He must have known that something was wrong when he had a note book with the start of a ticket for a traffic violation, and ended with a dead body. Further to the original officer, the new officers to the scene must have known something was wrong when no one decided to check to see if Walter could’ve been saved, no matter how unlikely.

Flash forward. A man who witnessed the entire event, and even captured the majority of it on a cell phone camera submits the phone as evidence. The resolution? Don’t worry folks, now we’re getting body cameras for all of our police officers. You’re safe now. Did the department take a step in the right direction with this? I don’t know that they did. You see, to me, and my tech training, I’ve always been taught that the moment you have physical access to something, it can be tampered with, or hacked.

If anything, I think body cameras increase the safety of the officers, which isn’t a bad thing, but doesn’t help with the current situation. The issue here was judgement. Poor judgment on the officers part who shot and killed an unarmed man while he ran away. If you took all of that camera money, and quadrupled it, I still don’t think you’d have enough to touch the real problem, which seems to be morality.

The funny thing about morality is that it’s based on the viewpoint of the person in the moral dilemma. That’s why companies, like the Police force (people faced with moral choice all day everyday) are given additional rules known to most people as something called policies. I submit that policies should only be there for reference. That your screening should be based on those policies, and that it should be able to probe deep enough into a young candidates life to judge if they hold those values or need more life experience and counselling to make the cut, if ever. That “if ever” part is import. You shouldn’t be able to brute force your way into a position like law enforcement.

Your screening practices for officers should reflect your policies, and your officers should reflect their communities, or at the very least, a generic set of values and what’s right and wrong no matter where you’re posted. Your officers should be screened for racial and sexual biases, and evaluated in terms of risk. Your officers should be hired  based on a third party organization to avoid preferential hiring, and to ensure a non-biased hiring practice is in place. Your officers should spend more time in a class room then they do learning how to properly use their various crowd control and lethal force weapons.

Now, do all of these things happen? Do any combination of them happen? Does anything similar to what I’ve suggested happen? I don’t know. But I can tell you this. If they did happen, how is Walter Scott dead? An accident? The one percent that all of the screening couldn’t catch?

Finally, knowing what you’ve read this far, do you really think technology is the answer? This isn’t landing a rocket on Mars. We’re not innovating our way out of this one. This is just good ol’ fashioned common sense. Treat each other as you would like to be treated. Take an approach where your initial interaction isn’t because someone has done something wrong, but because you’re making sure everything is alright. Help people. I’m positive there are grey areas in all of this, but I think this solution, rather than tech, will have a better return on investment for everyone.

Although not my usual, this article still had a touch a tech in it. If you would like you can follow me through any of the social media buttons below, or drop your comments in the comments section.