How does publicly-released deadly police footage impact transparency in law enforcement?

Racial Justice & Equality Movement

AUSTIN (KXAN) — On Monday, the Austin Police Department released new videos of the fatal Mike Ramos shooting in April, after months of increased push for their availability.

The 16-minute video shows the moments before 42-year-old Ramos was fatally shot by APD Officer Christopher Taylor during an incident in southeast Austin. The shooting occurred after police responded to a report that a man in a car was waving a gun in the air.

The video’s release comes amid a nationwide wave of demands for police reform and increased accountability during deadly law enforcement events, including the global impact of the George Floyd arrest video. More regionally, the shootings of Ramos and the in-custody death of Javier Ambler have remained subjects of protests and calls for justice.

But how does the release of videos, such as the Ramos footage, impact transparency in law enforcement overall?

University of Texas School of Law Professor Jennifer Laurin says this kind of footage can foster community trust, but it can also bring a new level of scrutiny.

“I think it’s certainly right that in an atmosphere of mistrust and an atmosphere of increased tendency to sort of take police accounts of their own activities with a grain of salt. That there’s going to be predictably less trust, less willingness to take police at their word,” says Laurin. “I do think it’s important to say there are some legitimate privacy interests that any governmental organization has to account for when they release public information. There absolutely are — at least in theory and the law — legitimate reasons to redact video or other documents relating to a particular incident.”

Statewide, Laurin says efforts to increase transparency may already have been in the works before the Ramos footage. She says the possible proposed legislation will be “very interesting” to see, in addition to how it will be received in the “current political winds.”

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas has already been working with state lawmakers on legislation surrounding transparency with law enforcement.

  • KXAN’s Investigative series “Denied,” works to shed light on need for police accountability and transparency — find the full series here.

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