“You still have to look at what the officer perceives,” he said.
Mr. Newbold said in police brutality cases in which video evidence is involved, it is important for a jury to understand that videos display only one perspective of an event and that different angles and lighting could better explain or justify the actions taken by officers on the scene.
He cited an example in which one video made it appear that officers had shot a man in the back, when a video taken from another angle showed that the man had turned slightly toward the officers with a weapon.
Difficult split-second decisions “have to be taken from the framework of what the officer is confronted with,” Mr. Newbold said.
Chief O’Leary, of the Wolcott, Conn., police and many other law enforcement professionals say the explosion of video recordings of public events can work to the benefit of police officers. Many times independent video helps to exonerate the police, showing their reactions were reasonable.
When he was chief of police in nearby Waterbury, Conn., Chief O’Leary recalled, two off-duty officers were involved in a disturbance outside of a bar, in which they were later accused of beating civilians. The cameras from a state building’s security camera across the street recorded the event, but in this case the video exonerated the officers as it showed that they had not used excessive force.
Chief O’Leary said the increased presence of video is better for both the police and the public. Officers are held to a higher level of conduct in treatment of civilians and are compelled to be more conscious of their behavior, but they also can be protected against unfair charges of brutality or overreaction.
Although Chief O’Leary agreed that police behavior sometimes can appear brutal to civilians even though officers might be using standard and appropriate procedures, he did not condone the actions of the Prince George’s County officers based on the video evidence he saw.
“That student was brutalized,” he said. “There’s no justification for that at all.”