Instant replay has become invaluable in sports. It greatly improves the ability of game officials to get the call right. The inconvenience of the delay is offset by the advantages of applying the rules accurately and fairly.
Instant replay also benefits from a controlled environment of perfect camera angles, definitive rules and expert reviewers.
The latest application of instant replay and, as a result, instant analysis, is police work. The country watched the phone-shot video multiple times of the police responding to teenagers fighting at a pool party in McKinney, Texas.
Attention focused on Officer Eric Casebolt, who shoved a 14-year-old girl to the ground and pulled his gun. Police Chief Greg Conley said Casebolt’s actions were “indefensible” and that the officer had resigned.
We’ll agree with the chief on this and defer to his judgment. However it’s worth noting what did not happen at the chaotic scene; the officer didn’t shoot anyone or even fire his weapon and no one was injured. There are suggestions of racism—the officer is white and the teenage victim is black—but there is conflicting evidence as to what role, if any, race played in the police actions.
But the larger question is this: Why is this a national story worthy of several days of headline coverage? There are a couple of reasons:
First, there is compelling video. The fact that people are watching drives the agenda in a competitive environment. Second, it fits the current storyline that “the police” are out of control. Third, the race card can be played easily.
We have a real-life instant replay where news consumers are likely to make their own judgments about the decisions made by the police and others seen in the video.
WVLY’s Howard Monroe told me on “Talkline” Wednesday he believes this is a good thing because it exposed the actions of an overzealous officer and serves as a warning to other police of what not to do. But Fox News digital politics editor Chris Stirewalt offered on the same program that subjecting more behavior to such intense national scrutiny will have unintended consequences.
“Here’s your dystopian fantasy for the future; it’s all on camera. Everything is recorded and you better do everything perfectly because if you do it wrong, you won’t get a chance to even things out.”
And that, Stirewalt suggests, will lead to “cultural paralysis” nobody will do anything. That may be hyperbolic, but there is already evidence the intense scrutiny of police actions is leading to police inaction.
CNN interviewed two Baltimore police who spoke anonymously about police simply reacting to events instead of being pro-active because they’re afraid of making a mistake. “Even if you have a reasonable suspicion, nine out of 10 times that officer is going to keep on driving,” one officer said.
Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Heather MacDonald wrote in the Wall Street Journal recently about the “Ferguson effect.” Violent crime is rising rapidly in major cities across the country as police disengage and the criminal element feels more empowered.
In sports, the instant replay resets the game back within the parameter of the rules. In police work the instant play can also be beneficial when it provides an accurate account of a serious event.
However, if the McKinney, Texas, video is an example of where news coverage of the police is headed, where every action caught on video is subject to nationwide scrutiny, then the law enforcement game is going to change completely.