Accountability by Camera: Online Video's Effects on Police-Civilian Interactions

Accountability by Camera: Online Video's Effects on Police-Civilian Interactions

Accountability by Camera: Online Video's Effects on Police-Civilian Interactions

Accountability by Camera: Online Video's Effects on Police-Civilian Interactions

Synopsis

Online video can bypass police jurisdictional influence over traditional mass media and may be affecting police-civilian interactions in American public space as the initial cusp of a paradigm shift. Where a camera may have videorecorded police actions, exclusive police custody of that camera or its recording correlates with the video being lost, destroyed, reported as nonexistent, or concealed from the public. Where police destroy, falsify, fail to file, or omit data from required documentation, online video correlates with improved accountability through police disciplinary actions. Online video correlates with significantly higher civil suit settlements for police misconduct.

Excerpt

Video captured by increasingly ubiquitous citizen cameras and communicated to a mass audience over the Internet is capable of bypassing police jurisdictional influence over traditional mass media and may be affecting police-civilian interactions in American public space as the initial cusp of a paradigm shift.

The growing number and wide distribution of cameras viewing public spaces in America is reaching levels unprecedented in our history. In part, this represents a return to earlier eras in which it was difficult for an individual to go unwatched or unidentified in their own community. However, the camera is inherently different from the eyewitness in that it produces an evidentiary record. Historically, the ability to visually record activities in public space was reserved to those with the resources and the motivation to devote considerable finances, time, and technical expertise to the task. Today those necessary resources have shrunk to be within reach of the vast majority of Americans. Deploying cameras to record public space is no longer a question of feasibility, but simply one of choice.

Historically, both the police and the traditional mass media wielded considerable power through cameras, power that has not been available to the general public. Autonomous citizens working for social change were usually at a significant disadvantage, and were often effective only when pooling resources to levels approximating the larger organizations they opposed. Today, police seeking to image public space often find their cameras outnumbered by those under autonomous citizen control. Further, police imagery has sometimes been used counter to its original intended purposes after release in compliance with state-level public records “sunshine laws.”

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