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National Editorial & Columnists

EDITORIALS ELSEWHERE: It's OK to keep an eye on police

Recording officers is good for both the public and their protectors

“Get out of the car! Now!”

A Texas state trooper, shouting.

“Why am I being apprehended?”

Naperville’s Sandra Bland, 28, demanding, as she records video from a phone held near her lap.

Seconds later in the video, Trooper Brian Encinia leans through Bland’s open driver’s door, points a Taser at her and screams, “I will light you up!”

The 39-second video is a new view of an encounter that by now is familiar to those following Bland’s case. Texas authorities released nearly an hour of dashcam video from Encinia’s car in July 2015, showing a traffic stop for failing to signal a lane change that quickly escalated after Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette and she argued that she didn’t have to do so in her own car.

The dashcam video shows an arms-length view mostly of Encinia, including his phone call explaining his actions as a tow truck operator prepares to take away Bland’s car.

The new video shows what Bland saw: Encinia, who is white, looming in the open car door as Bland, who is black, exclaims “Let’s take this to court” and argues that she has a right to record video.

We all know what happens next.

Bland goes to jail in Waller County, Texas. Three days later she’s still there. She dies in her cell, in what is ruled a suicide by hanging.

Amid many questions – why did the video just come to light? How does it affect Encinia’s statement to investigators that he felt threatened by Bland? – one thing is sure.

The case points clearly to the value of video of police encounters, from body cameras, from dashboard cameras, from bystanders, and, yes, from arrestees.

It protects both authorities and the accused. In Elgin, for instance, both 2018 complaints about excessive use of force were ruled unfounded after review of body camera video.

It sometimes resolves any ‘he said, she said’ differences in the narrative of a police encounter. In Encinia’s case, it resulted in a grand jury approving perjury charges against him. (Charges were dropped after Encinia promised he’d leave law enforcement forever.)

Confrontations can go badly in any location: big cities, rural towns and the suburbs.

We believe in police use of body cameras and dashboard cameras and encourage more suburban departments to get on board and seek grants to help pay for the technology and for maintaining records.

By all means, we support the right of citizens to openly record on-duty police in public places in a way that doesn’t interfere with their work.

We understand how uncomfortable that can be for anyone in front of the camera. Yet, that discomfort is easier to bear than the questions that begin once the cameras are turned off.

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