General Information

Videos: A Fixed Perspective

I recently saw the following videos at the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association Command Staff Conference. The use of deadly force by officers depicted in the videos is not the central theme of this article. They are merely illustrative of the fact that videos are a fixed perspective; a fact that should be considered when using them to evaluate an incident.

Please watch the video below and make a decision based upon only what you see in the video as to whether or not the use of deadly force was justified in this instance.

Now, watch the video (no audio):

Did your perspective of the incident change after viewing the second video?

Obviously, you realize at this point that they are videos of the same incident taken from two different in-car video systems; however, the perspectives they offer are radically different. They are exhibit-A that video evidence does not always tell the complete story or give a full frame of reference for an incident. In most cases, we only have the perspective offered by a single camera.

Liken this to watching a football game on TV and reviews via instant replay. There are plays where from one angle, it looks like a player was in bounds, had control of the ball, or crossed the goal line, where a different angle leads to a completely different outcome for the play in question. Why does this escape us when we watch videos of incidents?

This issue is not just one for law enforcement incidents.  With the proliferation of doorbell cams and easily installed security cameras, and of course the ubiquitous cell phone, more and more private citizen encounters are being captured on video.

Video without context does not provide a complete understanding of an incident.

“Articles” posted online that are actually nothing other than re-writes of other media reports and with no real firsthand investigation simply don’t provide enough context to form a valid opinion.

The intent of this piece is not to make an argument that video evidence be completely discounted. It is simply to show that videos may not tell the whole story.

As for the incident in the above videos, three independent investigations were conducted with the officers being cleared criminally and civilly in all three.

The item in the individual’s hand was a cell phone.

Traffic Stop Advice

It happened to you.  You were cruising along only to see the dreaded blue lights suddenly appear in your rear view mirror.  Now what do you do?

No, this isn’t a piece on how to get out of a ticket or a lesson in technicalities.  This is simply advice to make the stop go as smoothly as possible.

First, you want to safely move off of the roadway, preferably all the way off of a roadway if a parking lot or similar is available.  If not, try to find a level spot with plenty of visibility for approaching motorist to see you.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with slowing down and turning on your hazard lights to indicate you realize the officer is behind you and that you are not fleeing and then proceeding on to a safe place to stop.  This may include driving to a more public or well lit place.  If you have any doubts as to whether or not the person(s) trying to stop you is a legitimate officer, after slowing down and turning on your hazards, call 911 and tell the communications officer that someone is behind you with blue lights and that you are simply trying to verify that it is a legitimate traffic stop.

There are few things to keep in mind from the above paragraph.  By driving to a safe location to stop, you are making it safer for the officer; so, there should not be any angst for your doing so unless the officer has some reason to think that you are leading them into an ambush or looking for a way to escape.  As for calling 911, remember that cellular calls go to the nearest available tower, which may or may not be in the jurisdiction in which you are located at the time of the call; so, listen closely for the name of the agency that answers the call and provide your location clearly to the operator.

After you have stopped your vehicle, keep your hands visible and don’t be moving around in the vehicle.  Keep in mind that traffic stops are one of the more dangerous things that officers do; so, please don’t make the officer wonder if you are reaching into your console for your driver’s license or a weapon.  If it is dark, turn on your interior lights.  If you have dark tinted windows, roll them down to allow for greater visibility.

I am often asked whether or not a driver should inform an officer if there are firearms in the vehicle.  There is no requirement in Georgia to notify officers of such firearms.  There are states that do; so, research this if you will be driving out of state.  My advice would be to not make an issue of the firearm(s) unless it becomes inevitable it will be an issue. With this in mind, don’t put your insurance card under your pistol that you keep in the glove compartment or have your driver’s license where you would have to reach across your firearm to get to it. If you have a firearm on your person and are instructed to get out of the vehicle that might be a good time to inform the officer of the firearm. If you have to reach into a compartment containing a firearm, tell the officer prior to doing so. Remember that it is perfectly legal for one to transport a firearm within a vehicle without a Georgia Weapons License (GWL); however, if a person is ineligible for a GWL, there are some restrictions as to where a firearm may be carried within a vehicle.

In the above paragraph I mentioned insurance cards. Insurance cards in and of themselves are not considered proof of insurance under Georgia law, but state law still requires that drivers have them in their vehicles. The officer should call in the vehicle’s tag information to the dispatch center where a communications officer will check the tag against a state maintained data base. The data base is the determining factor for proof of insurance. The card must still be carried for accident reporting purposes.

Another common question that I get involves traffic stops that cross jurisdictional lines. This is an easy answer. Under 17-4-23 O.C.G.A, any officer may enforce traffic law anywhere in the state provided that the citation be processed in the jurisdiction in which the violation occurred. So, yes, the officer can stop you there…