In Age of Body Cameras, Courts Don't Believe Cops Like Before, Israeli Justice Says

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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An Israeli police officer wears a body camera over his uniform.
An Israeli police officer wears a body camera over his uniform.Credit: Meged Gozani
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

An Israeli Supreme Court justice told high-ranking police officers this week that due to the use of police body cameras "courts today no longer believe police officers like they once did."

Justice Isaac Amit's remarks were made in a conversation held with officers participating in an advanced training course, which included a visit to the court and a conversation with the justice.

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Justice Amit met with about 20 course participants, including district commanders, chief detectives and special operations officers. In the course of the discussion held, some officers criticized what they view as lenient sentencing by the courts. In one dialogue that unfolded between the justice and an officer, Amit said that in the age of body cameras, he prefers objective evidence to an officer's version of events.

According to Justice Amit, because judges can now see incidents for themselves they trust police officers less than they did previously. The justice's remarks caused great unease among the officers, as evidenced by one officer who asked to speak and expressed reservations about what had been said.

Amit, who is slated to become Supreme Court President in 2024, is one of Israel’s most respected jurists. He is not generally considered a critic of the police, and last year even voiced his displeasure that too much weight is given in criminal proceedings to failures made by officers in the course of investigations, at the expense of factual truth seeking.

Justice Isaac Amit in JanuaryCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“Without denying ... the rights of the accused, in my opinion the time has come for the increasingly cumbersome criminal procedure to shed weights that have been added to it and bring back to central stage the aim of clarifying the factual truth,” Amit wrote last March in the context of a convicted murderer's appeal.

Amit confirmed in a statement via the Courts Administration that he had met with the trainees for an open discussion and Q & A session, and that "one of the officers expressed his opinion and asked to ‘convey a message’ of frustration that the punishment for assaulting a police officer is lenient.”

“To the best of Justice Amit’s recollection," in the context of his reply to the "message" conveyed by the officer, Amit noted that today everything is filmed and that it's a good thing that there are body cameras," said the statement in part.

The statement also noted that Justice Amit raised the possibility that in cases involving the alleged assault of officers, perhaps officer testimony "is no longer accepted by courts as it was before." Also noted was that the justice mentioned "the decline in public trust in the police as a phenomenon which has caused other institutions to suffer as well.”

Amit is not the first to level criticism at police credibility. In 2019 Retired Judge David Rozen, the ombudsman of public complaints against state representatives, wrote that police representatives “lie in court on a daily basis” during arraignments. The following day, in the wake of criticism from the police, he clarified that he did not mean to say that all police representatives lie, just that some do.

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