Police body cams should be live-streamed. No argument. Full stop.
By Bernie Giusto
— ABC6 News Desk (@ABC6) September 27, 2016
There has always been closely guarded and understandable resistance on the part of law enforcement to opening our profession to the public eye. It’s been a long standing tenet that what we do in public should be held close to the profession. The thought is that what the public wants to know should be filtered through a ìneed to know” screen.
— jeff sparks (@twtsparks) October 5, 2016
We used to believe that law enforcement was only really understood by us cops. We believed we were the final arbiters and interpreters of events, especially those of great public interest or controversy.
That public policy is still the modus operandi. Unfortunately, it’s a presumption that prosecutors and the courts–the other major components of the criminal justice system– share and support. It’s outdated.
There was a time when the criminal justice system called the shots from crime to conviction–the where and when the flow of information to the public was controlled and calculated. The story was told and interpreted through the words and action of a system with a vested interest in protecting an image, and in fairness a concern for public servants. That doesn’t mean there was an unjust intent. It’s
just the way it was.
But now, the playing field, the equipment and the rules have all changed. The only thing that hasn’t changed is the police’s badly out-positioned playbook. And it’s the
police and their relationships in individual communities which now finds the profession mired in a lack public confidence and trust.
Social Media Fallout
The unrelenting onslaught of the use of social media and a profession poorly-prepared to deal with its result will continue to erode both confidence and trust in the cops.
Now, the story of the street isn’t told first by those who are quick on the draw with guns, but with the adept use of online audio and video. The story may or may not give an accurate picture as events unfold, but without argument, that becomes the ‘truth’ until it’s undone later by the facts of the event. In the meantime, and in real time, the damage is done and the ‘truth’ as told in the moment is embedded in the public eye and public consciousness. It’s not fair. Rarely is.
Police administrations across this country and political ‘leadership’ get blamed for the imagined offenses.
The criminal justice system is then ordered to ‘fix it.’
It’s time for the street cops to get back their reputations. To do that, they should just let the cameras roll. Real time. Real story. Let ’em go.
Police body cameras are only a half a decade from becoming a legislated mandate in many states in the country. It’s futile for police to believe that the outcry
for that technology as a tool in their everyday lives will somehow be a passing fad. Flatly, that will not happen.
— Frederick News-Post (@frednewspost) October 4, 2016
The ubiquitous nature of street cop cams will eventually result in judges requiring them for evidence.
Excuses like bad batteries and poor lighting and ìI forgot to turn it onî will either become cause for unfavorable jury instructions, or prosecutors will be told by courts to dismiss the case for the lack of best evidence.
Go Live 24-7
But that is not enough. It’s time for a police departments with enlightened management, and a high degree of faith in the accountability of their supervisory structure, to take body cameras live and unedited to the street.
— TheBlackWatch (@NuBlackVision) September 30, 2016
From roll call to end-of-shift letís go live everyday. Every moment. Every stop. Every call for help. Letís go tell our story in real time, streaming information to the public who wants us to be right and to support us.
Thatís right, a reality show like none other. It’s what the public pays for and it is what they admire about what we do. It’s also what they criticize but still support.
— Royston Martis (@RoamingRoyston) September 29, 2016
Will there be mistakes?
— Black Atlanta (@blckatlanta) September 28, 2016
Hell, yes. Of course. Without a doubt. But to all of you who wear or have worn blue, or brown, or green, how are we doing now with the story being half-told in sound bites and half truths?
And for those of you who haven’t, what an opportunity it would be to gain an enriching insight into what you believe is the true value of a well-policed community.
— Georgia Cities (@gacities) September 28, 2016
Notice that I only mention the police in this radical change of public policy, no mention of the other part of the criminal justice system.
— LasVegasSEO (@SEOExpertVegas) September 22, 2016
And here’s why. Prosecutors, defense counsel and courts would be in hysterics over such a proposal.
The idea that the cops would move to a live streaming relationship with the community as they deal with matters yet to be adjudicated and without the ìguiding touchî of the rest of the system is, well, to say the least, heresy.
It removes the blindfold from the figure holding the scales of justice and how can that possibly work?
But riddle me this. When the streets are burning in North Carolina,or Baton Rouge or Baltimore and the cops are taking incoming spit,rocks and bottles. When they’re being cursed in New York or assassinated in Dallas… where is the rest of the criminal justice system to support their image and protecting their lives and careers?
This will be a painful move for the police. In moving forward this way by informing the public in real time, there will be some individual casualties. What makes it worth the switch is that the public will learn truthful and timely information about the true value of quality policing.
And, can you imagine getting to watch on YouTube,Twitter, etc., the daily humdrum live-stream of one police officer helping a kid with a flat tire on a bike a ride home or giving a jump for someone with a dead battery? Soon, reality police shows would be old news.
But there’s a more important reason to bring policing live to social media. It will force the profession to fast-forward on the policy changes it needs to make to better hire, train,and hold accountable a new generation of police officers,deputies, and troopers.
Thiscoming generation is well equipped and internally hardwired to deal with the realities of modern technology and the instant-information age that cops operate in every day.
Right now, this next generation of our protectors is at a great disadvantage. They’re just waiting for a better grade of police administrations and political leaders to give them the tools they need to win the image battle.
Let’s just cut to the chase and go live, 24-7, and let the average American see what the average cop sees live and in real time.
Bernie Giusto is a former Lieutenant and Public Information Officer for the Oregon State Police, Chief of the Gresham Oregon Police Department and Multnomah County Sheriff.