Disclaimer: This is written as a perspective, not official guidance on the law or police procedures. If you have questions on your laws and ordinances, seek professional guidance. This article, or my views, may not necessarily represent the opinions and thoughts of any agency that I (the author) is affiliated with. They are strictly my own. Any real-life scenario will have any information withheld that would be considered confidential or identifying information.
I just wanted to come out and post a few quick thoughts on recording the police. Some people (including anti-cop groups) are encouraging everyone to “record all contact with police.” Here is my thoughts about that.
One face value (and some of my LEO friends may disagree), I don’t see a problem with it being recorded. When I think back on my experience (almost 500 hours inside a police car), the overwhelming majority of that time would not reveal anything wrong, or improper. It would show that the overwhelming majority of that time the officers have been professional, dedicated, courteous, and accommodating (even to those who were placed under arrest). But it’s not the majority that these folks are after, and quite frankly I don’t think that they care. I’ll give you a personal example.
Scenario: I am with a police department who gets a call for a missing child. We catch the suspect who is extremely uncooperative with officers. He admits to maybe knowing where the child is located, but is belligerent to anyone talking to him.
So , had this entire thing been recorded, what would they have seen? Was the suspect handled rough? Was he treated graciously? In the real life case he was treated kind, far better than I think he deserved. But it could just as easily go the other way. If the officer didn’t guide his head properly and he hit his head on the door, you become an internet sensation. “Officer XYZ when talking to this helpless teen bashed his head on the side of the car. #StopAbusiveCops.” What if it was very hot or cold and you left him outside so you could talk to him and not break your neck trying to turn around in the cramped car? “Officer XYZ leave defenseless young man in the hot sun for hours while questioning him. #StopPoliceBrutality”
See a problem there? Out of a hour or so incident, someone took 5 seconds to prove their own agenda that all cops are bad, and that police brutality is intolerable. Then we all get to see that picture on the internet a thousand times. And does that cop have any recourse? Can he stop the flow of misinformation? And taken out of it’s context, you have “proof” of brutality that doesn’t really exist when it’s viewed in context.
I know some of you are saying “That doesn’t happen” or “You are minimizing the significance of the proof”. I’m not saying that every cop is perfect, that brutality doesn’t exist, or that there are no bad cops out there. What I am saying is this: I don’t object to anyone videoing the interaction. What I object to is the ability to throw a 30 second video or a couple of pictures taken completely out of context. In addition to that, where is the right of the office to face his accusers? Where is the right of the suspect for fair treatment (I mean, the suspect may not want that picture/video out either)? And on the flip side, what if we recorded you at your job? Do you always give 100% all day, every day? Because that one time you don’t, I’ll make sure all your friends and family (and boss) see you sleeping on the job, shopping online, or sticking that pencil in your pocket.
Fairness, and context is all I ask.