Race Relations and the U.S. Police Force

February 17, 2015

BYU Law’s Black American Law Student Association held a forum on Wednesday, February 11 where Professor Daniel McConkie, a criminal law scholar, discussed developments in race relations with police forces across the nation.

Professor McConkie shared his positive view on the use of body cameras by officers because the cameras are inexpensive and studies have shown promising results. “When a police officer puts a body camera on, he behaves differently,” Professor McConkie said. “Police have a very hard job to do, and the body camera is a reminder that anything they say or do while interacting with a civilian could be reviewed, and that changes their behavior.”

But it isn’t only the police who are affected by the presence of a body camera. Professor McConkie shared, “The studies also show that body cameras change the behavior of the people with whom the police interact. It keeps everyone honest.”

To underscore his point, Professor McConkie discussed the Garner case from New York, where a man filmed an exchange between police and a black civilian, Garner, which resulted in Garner’s death. Discussion of the Garner case and grand juries in general led to consideration of the recent Michael Brown and Ferguson cases.

Professor McConkie showed a clip of an altercation between officers and a black civilian filmed from the dashboard camera of a police cruiser along with an excerpt from a police manual regarding the use of force. Following the clip, Professor McConkie led an analysis of the force allowed and the actual force used in the clip.

“When I taught criminal procedure for the first time last semester, it became clear to me that students’ opinions about these kinds of issues had a lot to do with what the police were like in the places where the students grew up,” McConkie noted. “I grew up in a place where I hardly saw the cops, so I assumed they always did the right thing. As a prosecutor, I began to realize it’s a little more complicated than that.”