Social Media Extortion

Thompson_iPhone

Well, it has been a while and no hint of the “damning video” that was taken, with an iPhone, of me telling a woman that I could not help her, and not a peep.  Her threats of social media exposure, which were supposed to make me do her bidding, appear to have failed.  In order to better explain, let me give you some context.  I wish I could get into specifics, but I cannot, so a Cliff’s Notes version will have to suffice.

A while back, a situation came up that pulled nearly all of the patrol units from the entire county.  Those few of us that were left were tasked with handling the regular calls for service, which got backed up more than normal (the new normal that is).

I eventually got dispatched to a standby call where a mother was requesting our assistance to pick up her child because the father failed to show up at the designated time and place for the exchange.  Sadly, by the time I got dispatched, the call had pended for several hours.  In reviewing the call, I saw that the female caller, who I will just refer to as Mom, had called back a number of times and not only complained about the extended wait times, but according to the notes in the call, she had been very demanding.

I drove to the location she indicated she would be waiting and found that she was not there.  Honestly, I would have been surprised if she was since it was nearly three hours after she called.  I telephoned her and we agreed to meet at a location down the street that was closer to the father’s house.  I also apologized for the delay and attempted to explain what had happened, but she just cut me off.

I met her in the chosen parking lot and she proceeded to tell me that her ex-husband (Dad) had not shown up to exchange custody of their child.  She told me that the exchange was supposed to take place in another county, three counties away, and that she had already called the local cops there when dad did not show.  Mom lives in a different county even further away.  And finally, the custody order is from yet a fourth county in which none of them reside.  There is more to this story, much more, but that is all that is necessary to understand the situation.

I had Mom wait in the parking lot and I drove to Dad’s house around the corner.  As I pulled up, I realized I had recently been to Dad’s house a few days prior on a welfare check.  Mom had called claiming their child was in danger from Dad because Dad owned guns and he had been “acting rough” at the custody exchange earlier that day (yes, that was the extent of the claims of why the child was in danger).  I knew from my previous visit that there were two adults and at least three children who lived at the home.

The house was stone quiet when I arrived and the shades were drawn.  Stepmom’s car was parked out front and it was cold.  Several knocks and presses on the doorbell received no answer.  I walked around the side of the house and looked through the window into the garage.  Dad’s car is gone.  All of those clues lead me to believe, wait for it… that no one was home.

I drove back to talk to Mom and explained to her that no one was home, thus I would not be able to help her.  I further explained to her that the policy of the department that I work for is that we will attempt to mediate child custody exchanges, but if one parent refuses, or is not available, we refer them back to family court.  Since the exchange was supposed to occur in another county, and the local cops were already notified, and according to Mom, they had taken a report, the best I could suggest to her was to go back to family court in the county that issued the order and attempt to get the order amended.

Well, Mom was not having any of that.  She got angry (somewhat understandably I will add) and began getting huffy.  As I was trying to explain her options, her phone rang.  She stepped back and answered it.  From the way she answered, I suspect it was her current significant other.  She started off the phone conversation with “this cop here is refusing to help me get my child,” and it went downhill from there.  Sill on the phone, she looked at me and demanded my name and badge, which I happily wrote down for her.  While I was doing that, she walked to her car and whispered something to her adult daughter, who casually unplugged her iPhone and ever so slyly (sarcasm) began to video record the “conversation”.

I gave Mom the slip of paper with my information on it, including several phone numbers for our department.  She eventually hung up the phone, and her demeanor visibly changed.  After straightening her shirt and her hair, she walked close to me, looked at me and demanded that I go retrieve her child from the father.  She said that if I did not do so immediately, she would go to my supervisors, to the local politicians and to the media, specifically mentioning both the news and Facebook.  She continued on and on, not taking a break or allowing me to speak.  I tried several times to engage her in a conversation, but she continued over me.  After several unsuccessful attempts to talk, I politely told her that I had already advised her, several times, of her options.  Since I was not able to help her, I would be leaving.  I walked to my car, got in and began to back out of the parking space.  She followed me to my car and continued her on-camera performance, yelling at me as I calmly backed out and drove off.

So, here is my point.  This is not remotely an original thought on the behalf of Mom’s internet lawyer on the phone.  This is the same type of behavior exhibited by folks from Cop Block and the morons who video themselves open carrying rifles while wearing body armor going into police stations to file a FOIA request.  At what point has it become acceptable to use threats of video and media/social media “exposure” as a way to force law enforcement to bow to your will?

I am fairly social-media savvy, and I have a bunch of years of experience dealing with folks, not to mention I am well versed in our department policies, so Mom’s show did not work on me.  But it might have worked on someone else, someone with less experience or someone less familiar with department policies, at least to the point of getting a supervisor involved.  That said, after leaving the call, I advised both my immediate supervisor and our media relations officer just in case Mom made good on her threats.

Demanding complainants are nothing new.  What is new is this, what I am calling Social Media Extortion.  My advice to cops out there is know your policies, know the laws, familiarize yourself with social media, and always, always assume someone is video recording you.  Like Schoolhouse Rock used to say, knowledge is power!

No Video For You!

6490562_GI just finished reading this U-T San Diego article titled “Police Use of Body Camera Video Debated” and I am at a total loss.  Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego (a democrat, there’s a shock) is pushing a law that would make it illegal for officers wearing body cameras to review the video recording of an incident before writing their report.  I am trying to figure out how one attempts to rationalize something like that, and I am coming up blank.  The only reason I can figure is that you perceive the cops as the bad guys and the suspects as some sort of oppressed victims.  I mean really, am I missing some other logical reason?

“Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and civil rights advocates say police in California should not be permitted to view the footage early on because it’s not fair to criminal defendants and it’s not the intended use of the cameras.”

Sorry, come again?  How is reviewing video “not fair to criminal defendants”???  I did not realize it was law enforcement’s job to be “fair to criminals”.  Well, crap!  Here all this time, I have been under the impression that our job was to apprehend criminals and present the best, most accurate case against them as possible.  Silly me…

And if capturing the facts of what transpired is not the intended use of a body cam, then what is the purpose???

“Weber said the primary role of body cameras is to de-escalate incidents between police and the general public, not to serve as a reference for officers as they write reports.”

Oh, okay.  I gotcha, body cams are not intended to record the facts of an incident; they are primarily to be used as an intimidation tool against the cops, to keep those evil bastards in line.  Roger that.

Further, according to the author, the “Officers with the Oakland Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s jail deputies are prohibited from” reviewing the video before writing their reports currently.  I honestly cannot believe there are actually departments that prevent officers from viewing the video footage before writing their reports.  Do they also prevent officers from reviewing their notes?  Their in-car camera video?  Any surveillance camera footage?  What is next, not allowing them to remember things?  And no more talking to witnesses?

I’m sorry, but there is no logically defensible reason to prevent officers from viewing the video before writing their reports.  The camera is a tool which is designed to, as best as possible, accurately record the incident, just like a notepad, CAD event printout (for those agencies using a computer aided dispatch, or CAD system), radio traffic recordings, surveillance camera footage, in car cameras and witness statements.  The goal of all of those tools is to produce the most accurate police report possible, which will either prove the suspect guilty, or exonerate them.  Anyone arguing against review of the video is someone whose ass will never be on the line in a court for something they were forced to write from memory alone.

Incidents captured on body camera, just like any other video camera, can range from the most benign consensual contact to a very long, very traumatic, life and death struggle.  To suggest an officer not be allowed to use that resource is asinine!  That would be like me trying to complete a pursuit report from a 30 mile pursuit where the suspect threw guns and drugs from the car while weaving through crowded city streets without reviewing my in-car camera footage.  Yeah, it can be done, but there are going to be errors.  Why on earth would you intentionally want errors in a crime report?

This is an open invitation to any administrators, and especially to any CA lawmaker who thinks this is a good idea:  You are welcome to spend a week with me, in my patrol car, while wearing a body camera.  After each encounter, you will be required to write a report about the incident.  When it is all said and done, we will compare your reports to the video footage and see just how accurate your reports are.

The fact that there are administrators are already preventing cops from reviewing evidence before they complete their reports reminds me of one of the 20 undeniable truths of law enforcement:

13. There are too many people calling the shots who never worry about being shot at. It would behoove every leader to get into a patrol car on a regular basis. Patrol gives the gift of proper perspective.

The day my department, or in this case, the state prevents me from reviewing any and all evidence before I write my reports is the day I hand in my badge and walk away!
-Matt