When John Rivera made those unseemly remarks about cop cams last week, the perfect rebuttal came from none other than ... John Rivera.
Rivera is known for inflammatory utterances one might not expect from the mouth of the president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association.
Last year, for instance, the police union president tried to ratchet up the pressure on Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez during contract negotiations. He warned county residents: “If the mayor’s not going to provide security, then my recommendation, as an experienced law enforcement officer for nearly 40 years, is either buy yourself an attack dog, put bars on your windows and doors and get yourself some firearms because you’re going to have to protect yourselves. We won’t be able to.”
Rivera was only trying to pop Gimenez. His words, however, reverberated across gun-rights websites as a prophecy of imminent apocalypse. Here was a veteran police officer reinforcing wing-nut contentions that law-and-order was crumbling, that survival hinged on a well-stocked private arsenal.
Last week, Rivera was at it again. He was trying to damage the mayor’s reelection campaign by attacking Gimenez’s plan to outfit Miami-Dade police officers with video cams. Instead, he managed to exacerbate racial tensions. Rivera, perhaps thinking he could get away with divisive talk on Spanish-language television, charged that Gimenez was only interested in cop cams because “he is so desperate to try and gain favor in the African-American community, because they are the ones who are pushing this.”
But the very same day that the Miami Herald reported that Rivera characterized the push for cop cams as racial groveling, the Herald had sought out his opinion on a another matter that showed why police body cameras would be useful in ways unrelated to race-tinged police confrontations. Rivera was commenting about the arrest of Miami-Dade Officer William Kostopoulos, charged with turning traffic stops into opportunities to steal money and property from motorists.
Rivera called Kostopoulos a “bad apple.” But it would have taken a very stupid bad apple to shake down motorists with a personal video cam recording every citizen encounter. Cop cams aren’t just about racially charged or violent confrontations.
Rivera made his cop cam remarks on the Mira TV show hosted by Raquel Regalado, the school board member who — not so coincidentally — is challenging Gimenez in the 2016 mayoral race. And there he was, in his clumsy way, taking another whack at the mayor. Instead, he only reinforced the deleterious myth in certain beleaguered Miami-Dade neighborhoods that the police — not just a few bad apples — are aligned against the black community. That, as far as the cops are concerned, it’s us against them.
Meanwhile, police departments in Hallandale Beach, Miami Beach and Miami are giving cop cams a try. Scores of police departments across the country, including Los Angeles, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, have already added personal cameras.
Not only have police use-of-force incidents fallen (47 percent in San Diego) but citizen complaints have dropped dramatically. Not only complaints intimating racial discrimination. But the bad apple kind.