Law enforcement officials haven’t been getting good reputations recently, and it’s starting to seem like viral videos and photos of abuse, directed toward American citizens seemingly without reason, are no longer the rarity. But perhaps this type of abuse has always existed, and the reason Americans are seeing more instances of abuse is because there are increasingly better ways of documenting altercations between officers and civilians.
A Saratoga Country police officer is currently being charged with displaying unnecessary force toward a civilian in Schenectady, NY, late on the evening of November 6th. A video appeared not long after the incident occurred and was widely circulated around YouTube and a variety of online news publications, resulting in official suspension without pay for the deputy in question.
The video shows an officer engaging in an expletive-laced conversation with a civilian driver. The officer constantly belittles the driver for politely stating that law enforcement officials have no right to search his personal car without reasonable cause.
After continuing to state that an unwarranted search is illegal, the driver and the officer both move out of the camera’s frame, but the accompany audio track clearly indicates that the officer forcibly took the car keys from the driver and proceeded to slap the driver.
The person recording the incident (likely a passenger in the car) can be heard asking the officer if he might be slapped around too, and the officer delivers a promise to “rip [his] head off” too.
The video is barely longer than a minute, but it began making waves the instant it was released online. The Saratoga County sheriff’s office declined to name the officer in its press release following the altercation, but the published video and subsequent media outlets were able to fill in the blanks.
The officer, 48-year-old Sgt. Shawn Glans, told a local news outlet that he acted this way because there was a gun involved — and there was, although the gun was safely stored in the car, it had been purchased earlier that day (and there was a receipt to prove it), and the two civilians involved had merely been walking back to the car after attending a nearby party when they were stopped, on foot, by the police officers.
Nevertheless, Glans admits that he didn’t know he was being filmed, and that he would have acted differently if he had known. Glans’s wife told reporters that her husband was under “a lot of emotional and physical stress,” causing him to act so aggressively.
Once Glans’s name was released, it didn’t take long for viewers to find records of Glans acting violently toward innocent citizens in the past (culminating in a $6 million lawsuit in 1999, according to the Times Union).
The issue of allowing an officer with a violent history to be patrolling the streets is certainly one that the sheriff’s office will have to address during its official investigation. But another issue at hand is the fact that many police officers, like Glans, don’t hesitate to act unlawfully simply because they have the upper hand when on duty.
“A lot of people don’t really understand why they have a ticket and a lot of the time there are just officers out there who abuse their power. It is often just a game to them; they don’t understand the ramifications of their often unjustified actions could end up affecting someone’s life,” explains Zach Sierra, Executive Office Manager at California-based Mr. Ticket. “This is what happens when people who aren’t prepared for power are given it.”
Perhaps the incident involving Sgt. Glans isn’t that rare at all, but it’s clearly becoming harder for unpredictable police officers, like Glans, to cover up their mistakes — no amount of family apologies or veiled PR updates can hide the outrage running rampant on social media platforms. For officers like Glans, this transparency certainly isn’t advantageous. But it may just be what the American justice system needs right now.