Grace: Lesson is to act as if being watched -
Published Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 7:40 am
Grace: Lesson is to act as if being watched

An authority figure berates some young men, hits and pushes them and calls them names. This is captured on video. The man is fired.

He is not an Omaha police officer. He is Rutgers University's men's basketball coach Mike Rice, who the school forced out last week after a public outcry. Three others, including the athletic director, are also out of their jobs.

On Friday, heads were rolling in New Brunswick, N.J., and in Omaha, both over actions captured in video footage.

Fifteen days after an argument over expired license plates led to a controversial arrest, four Omaha officers have been fired and four officers are under investigation.

Perhaps an excessive force complaint would have had the same result, even without video footage. But little in Omaha police history — at least the history we know about — indicates that would have happened. And it certainly would have taken longer to sort out who did what March 21 on a stretch of Seward Street.

The video, with its nearly 350,000 views on YouTube, should be a good wake-up call to all of us.

Dr. Carl Greiner, a therapist and forensic psychiatrist who teaches at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, reflected on how little control we have over the public nature of our lives.

At UNMC, he signs a release permitting the university to formally photograph, film or otherwise use him in the school's promotional materials. But the notion that he gives permission for his image to be used is “almost quaint.”

“Why or how would I necessarily know if (a student) is videotaping my presentation?” he asked.

He said all public figures, including police officers and teachers, ought to assume they're not only being watched, they're being recorded. One would hope that would influence behavior, he said.

“If you have a notion God is always watching, does that make a difference? I would argue that it does,” Greiner said. “The idea that you are being observed ... most people tend to clean up their language, tend to clean up their actions.”

If you realize the mike is always on, “most people would cut back on what they say.”

So apply that in the Omaha police case.

* * * * *

Arrest video

* * * * *

A recap: An Omaha officer comes upon a car with expired license plates. The next thing you know, an officer has a man on the ground. He appears to be punching the man as he tries to handcuff him. Meanwhile, other officers chase one of the man's brothers into their house after the brother shoots video of the scene. Officials are now investigating whether any officers tampered with evidence.

A neighbor captures the arrest and chase on video from his house across the street.

The video goes viral.

I asked former Police Chief Tom Warren, who now heads the Urban League of Nebraska, what role that video played in the firing of the officers.

When Warren was chief he sought to terminate an officer whose actions in 2006 were captured on police cruiser video. The video captured the officer using a Taser on a handcuffed suspect — a violation of police policy. The officer resigned.

“Obviously when you have solid evidence,” Warren said, “it gives you the support and justification to make an informed decision.”
But the officer was never charged criminally. The victim was later fatally shot.

And while the video couldn't prove criminal intent, it was enough to end the officer's career with the department.

But it shouldn't take the threat of an omnipresent eye to make anyone — officers, especially — understand the rules and potential consequences, he said.
“It gets back to your own personal ethics and integrity,” Warren said. “You should behave in a manner in which you would even if you felt no one is watching.”

We should hope.

Greiner reflects on the March 21 video and wonders: Business as usual for Omaha police? Or an anomaly?

I'd like to think that most police officers, coaches, teachers, priests, parents and most everyone in positions of power do not abuse it.

That you could mount a camera on every window in the city, and they would show the better side of our nature.

But maybe we're all better off if we assume someone, somewhere, is watching.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1136,,

Contact the writer: Erin Grace    |   402-444-1136    |  

Erin is a columnist who tries to find interesting stories and get them into the paper. She's drawn to the idea that everyday life offers something extraordinary.

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