The public surveillance of cops has exploded to include, potentially, anyone with a cellphone, says USA Today. Videos are so ubiquitous that analysts and police debate whether they are serving the public interest or undermining public trust in law enforcement and even putting officers’ lives in jeopardy. The videos are subjecting officers’ actions in public places to new scrutiny and changing the way accusations against cops play out in court. In some places, police are fighting back by enforcing laws that limit such recordings. Other departments seek new training for officers to prepare for the ever-present surveillance on the street.
Among recent examples: Video showing police slamming an unarmed man to the street in Denver. A college student thrashed by officers with batons during a University Maryland basketball victory celebration. An Oakland transit officer fatally shooting an unarmed man on a train platform. “There is no city not at risk of a video showing an officer doing something wrong,” says San Jose Police Chief Rob Davis, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. In Illinois, Maryland and Massachusetts, some police have responded by trying to limit such recordings when they believe those recordings interfere with police actions. Some police believe videotaping officers poses risks that reach beyond Internet embarrassments: It could cause officers to hesitate in life-threatening situations. “The proliferation of cheap video equipment is presenting a whole new dynamic for law enforcement,” says Jim Pasco of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union. “It has had a chilling effect on some officers who are now afraid to act for fear of retribution by video. This has become a serious safety issue. I’m afraid something terrible will happen.”