YouTube Oversight in Saratoga County

 

As you’ve probably heard, a Saratoga County sheriff’s deputy has now resigned and faces charges in the Town of Halfmoon, after a viral YouTube video showed him apparently going ape on a couple of men last week. WNYT reported the resignation and the charges – official misconduct and harassment – today.

If Sergeant Shawn Glans is in fact the deputy in the video, and if he really did and said the things depicted in the video, it’s an excellent thing that he’s gone.

That’s just one small bright spot, though, in a bleak landscape. The revelations of this weekend tell us some very discouraging things.

First of all, as noted in a press release issued by the Saratoga County Sheriff over the weekend, Glans was disciplined because of “a video posted online which appeared to show an inappropriate interaction [with] a civilian during a roadside interview. ” In other words, the sheriff is saying he found out what his own deputy was up to from YouTube. Not from the deputy himself or the two other deputies who, according to WNYT, witnessed his behavior. Those other deputies haven’t resigned, as far as we know.

Furthermore, the video and the comments Glans has made since its release raise concerns about the way the Sheriff’s Department may have been doing things during the many years this man was a member. In the video, the deputy uses obscene, abusive, and threatening language in addressing two men in a parking lot. He does something to one of them out of camera shot that sounds a lot like a slap. And why? What had happened to warrant – even in the deputy’s mind – this kind of behavior? Well, it looks like one of the men politely insisted that the officer observe the constitution – in simple terms, the man refused to consent to a search of his vehicle.

And what Glans told Albany’s Times Union about the incident is, in its way, just as disturbing as the video: it suggests that this wasn’t an isolated incident. “Asked if he would have handled the matter the same way again,” the Times Union reports, “Glans said he would, but not if he knew it was being filmed. He acknowledged that he did not know the incident was being videotaped.”

If he “would handle the matter the same way again,” it’s not unfair to suspect that he’s handled similar matters this way in the past. And similar matters have to have arisen in his long career. After all, encounters like this are a daily occurrence for law enforcement officers.

This is essentially an admission, then, that the video camera just caught him in the act of being himself. Who knows how many times he’s done this kind of thing without being caught? Furthermore, comments by the sheriff, quoted by WNYT, indicate that Glans wasn’t just a deputy. He was a supervisor. How many times has he encouraged – or even forced – other deputies to engage in this kind of misbehavior?

And most disturbing of all is the suggestion, implicit in Glans’ remarks, that the video camera, and the person wielding it, are the bad guys. Again, per the Times Union, Glans said that he was handling a ‘public safety issue’ (he claimed to have seen a gun in the vehicle), and concluded “If I had to do it all over again … I’d probably do the same thing. If I knew the camera was there, no, because it does look bad.”

In other words, as he sees it, ‘public safety’ is compromised when an officer can’t slap random people around on the street, which – as he candidly admits – he can’t do when his actions are recorded on video, “because it does look bad.” It follows from this that the act of recording a law enforcement officer’s behavior is a threat to the officer’s ability to do his job and, by extension (if he does his job the way this officer does), to the officer.

It’s a short step from this attitude to chasing bystanders away from the scene and arresting anyone who has the gall to try to record an incident. This has been an issue for years (see for instance an entry from August of 2011). discussing the arrest of a news cameraman in Long Island). A recent New York Times piece, discussed a movement to have police officers use body-mounted cameras during encounters. With officers like this on the streets, it really seems, sometimes, like the only way to keep law enforcement honest.
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The title of this entry has been changed and the content extensively edited since its original publication on 11/10/14.