EDITORIAL: Anonymity leads to more police abuse
Virginia Senate passes bill to hide officers’ names from public
The safety of police officers is a growing concern. The general culture in the United States is marked by a decrease in respect for police, as well as enhanced scrutiny and hostility against them — or at least that is the train of thought of some people in the Virginia Senate.
The Virginia General Assembly is considering a bill that could keep the names of police officers a secret, and it’s been fomented by the perception that the police are heavily surveyed and disrespected on a day-to-day basis, which makes them vulnerable to harassment and violence from regular citizens. Yes it’s true that they’ve been subject to wearing body cameras during their working shift to make how they interact with other people transparent, and it’s also true that there’s a growing suspicion over their conduct. But these concerns are a response to nationwide and highly publicized endemic of officers abusing the powers of their position. The Virginia Senate already approved the bill that would classify the name of all police officers and fire marshals as “personnel records,” thereby exempting them from mandatory disclosure under the state’s freedom of information law, but it ultimately puts the protection of police officers over the protection of regular individuals.
If keeping the names of police officers a secret is a way to protect them from disrespect, then officers and the government who are rallying to pass this bill are detached from reality. People choose to become officers knowing they’re putting their lives on the line to protect others, and this demonstration of altruism is the source of the respect garnered from local communities. But the notion that police officers put their lives on the line isn’t diminished or discounted, as continued effort is made to prevent the casualties and enhance safety of officers on duty: They have physical protection from their precarious undertakings, such as bulletproof vests and guns to arm themselves. Nevertheless, lesser-armed or (usually) unarmed groups who encounter officers and have nothing to protect themselves with, and police officers have the upper hand — equipped with guns, bulletproof vests and, now proposed, anonymity — so they can act with impunity toward the vulnerable.
Police departments were making progress with the installation of body cameras, but this bill moves us toward the opposite direction. Even if the accountability of officers is buttressed by what’s captured by cameras, there have been numerous instances where officers still duck blame for their actions (note Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, among others). Society and officers commonly work on an uneven plane of interaction, and power is leveraged by officers. They already have so much authority, and now, if the bill passes, the public won’t get to know something as simple as their names. Those who work for the government are beneficiaries of taxpayer dollars, so the public has a right to the names of who they’re financing. And if people working at Panera or Target have name-tags so customers can complain to them or about them, then officers can wear name-tags, or at least have their names available so citizens can express their grievances.
The pursuit of justice should be the goal. The general culture in the U.S. is actually marked by fear — fear of officers who abuse their power and fear of people who abuse regulations. Respect for them is dwindling because they’ve ceased to be perceived as protectors and are instead viewed as attackers and offenders. It’s a shame that all officers now have the tendency to be painted with the same brush and acquired a bad reputation because of the handful of horrendous officers who overshadow the good deeds of the rest of who act exceptionally. Disclosing names is a standard protocol, and if officers don’t have anything to hide, then it shouldn’t be a problem.
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