Something Must Be Done: Finding a Solution to America’s Tumultuous and Complex Relationship with the Police during Traffic Stops

by Zachary J. Mahone, 2L Note Candidate

This past July, the haunting cell phone footage of Philando Castile’s death sent shockwaves through the already shaky ground of police and public relations. After being pulled over for a broken taillight, Castile was shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer over a miprofessional-headshot-1sunderstanding involving a legally registered hand gun. Eliott C. McLaughlin, Woman Streams Aftermath of Fatal Officer-Involved Shooting, Cnn (July 8, 2016, 4:57 PM), http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/07/us/falcon-heights-shooting-minnesota/ [https://perma.cc/CD6Z-RU8Z]. Castile’s death, like many of the unfortunate police shootings before it, ignited a conversation on how law enforcement officers should behave during traffic stops.

Unfortunately, this dialogue to arrive at a solution has had an inconsistent focus. While the public has demanded body cameras and police accountability, some government agencies have turned to tactics on the other side of the spectrum directed at educating citizens on how to behave when pulled over. Both of these solutions have questionable effectiveness, limited scope, and ultimately fall short in being a definitive resolution.

Although many view body cameras as the key to healing police and public relations, the science on why or how body cameras work is uncertain. In studies done across the nation, the success of body cameras has varied mysteriously. In some areas, body cameras work amazingly well, and in others they seemingly increase the use of force. Barak Ariel, Do Police Body Cameras Really Work?, IEEE Spectrum (May 4, 2016, 7:00 PM), http://spectrum.ieee.org/consumer-electronics/portable-devices/do-police-body-cameras-really-work [https://perma.cc/HJA7-HM6N]. Further, body cameras for all their potential benefit will never be able to depict a situation fully. In a study highlighted by the New York Times, body camera footage was found to be subject to “deceptive intensity” in which body camera footage tends to make events appear more violent than they actually are. Timothy Williams et al., Police Body Cameras: What Do You See?, The New York Times (Apr. 1, 2016), http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/04/01/us/police-bodycam-video.html?_r=0 [https://perma.cc/KZZ3-GH5S]. Body cameras, although a helpful tool to deter police aggression, are limited and can ironically deceive. Thus, body cameras should not be viewed as a final solution.

A solution on the other side of police accountability and body cameras is public education on proper behavior during traffic stops. For example, the FBI in Springfield, Illinois is working on an educational video directed at teaching high school students how to behave during traffic stops. FBI Video to Show Illinois Teens How to Act in Traffic Stops with Police, Chicago Tribune (Oct. 1, 2016, 4:31 PM), http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-fbi-video-illinois-teens-traffic-stops-20161001-story.html [https://perma.cc/NTW5-Z3U2]. Along with showing the video, schools across Illinois will be expected to teach students how to handle being stopped by a police officer as a part of the driver’s education curriculum. This approach may be viewed as a step in the right direction but it is only focused on one side of the police and public relations formula. An educational video would have done nothing to help Philando Castile. Both body cameras and educational videos fail in that they are restricted and can only do so much. Instead, what is needed is a complex and dynamic solution to match the complex and dynamic problem.

In his Note, Policing the Police: Re-examining the Constitutional Implications of Traffic Stops, Benjamin Jaqua proposes police regulation through new department policies and state legislation. Jaqua finds that solutions to fix public and police relations must consider three competing considerations: the police officer’s interest in clarity, society’s interest in effective law enforcement, and the individual’s interest in privacy and dignity. Uniquely, Jacqua’s Note is influenced by his personal experience as an officer with the Memphis Police Department. Jaqua hopes to provide guidance to limit police shootings and to heal the rift that exists between the public and police officers. Philando Castile’s death is a call for a practical solution that is aimed at the complex relationship between the police and the public. Benjamin Jaqua’s Note addresses this complexity and provides a workable solution. Jaqua, Benjamin, Policing the Police: Re-examining the Constitutional Implications of Traffic Stops, 50 Ind. L. Rev. 345 (2016) (available at http://mckinneylaw.iu.edu/ilr/pdf/vol50p345.pdf).

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