Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Lights, Cameras, Action: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Police Perceptions of Citizens Who Video Record Officers in the Line of Duty in the United States

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Lights, Cameras, Action: A Mixed Methods Analysis of Police Perceptions of Citizens Who Video Record Officers in the Line of Duty in the United States

Article excerpt

Introduction

The proliferation of handheld video recording devices has given citizens the ability to readily record virtually any activities. This includes documenting the actions of police officers who may be in the midst of an investigation in a public space. The increased ease with which citizens can video record police has, at some level, thrust police officers into a 'new visibility' (Goldsmith, 2010) raising levels of police accountability while simultaneously influencing the ways police perceive civilians who video record them in public places.

The current U.S. precedent outlining how police may formally address civilians who video record them while in the line of duty is traced to an incident involving Simon Glik (Massachusetts v. Glik). In October 2007, Mr. Glik, a Boston area criminal defense attorney, witnessed Boston police officers arrest a teenager in Boston Common, the oldest public park in the country. Mr. Glik quickly reached for his cell phone, activated the video recorder, and captured the actions of the officers. Once the officers noticed Mr. Glik was recording their actions, he was arrested and charged with illegal electronic surveillance under Massachusetts' wiretapping statute (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 272, § 99). The charges against Mr. Glik were eventually dropped (Massachusetts v. Glik, 2008) and the city of Boston settled a lawsuit on the basis that first amendment rights of citizens include being able to film officers while they are carrying out their duties in public spaces (Glik v. Cunniffe et al. 2011).

Following this incident and the ensuing litigation, many police agencies continued to act under the assumption they had a lawful reason to stop and arrest people who simply video recorded their activity. Some officers also confiscated digital recording devices, prompting litigation on the grounds of violation of Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure (Christopher Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department et al. 2012). Few agencies have publicly addressed issues of civilian video recording with departmental guidelines (e.g. Baltimore City Police Department General Order J-16) to establish an official stance on how officers are to address the public when video recordings are being made in public spaces.

This protocol may or may not be followed in many jurisdictions and does not specifically force officers to adopt certain perceptions of the public. In spite of these policies, officers' discretion to approach and interact with civilians who are video recording is likely to remain unchanged. This leads to a very important set of lingering questions related to precisely how officers perceive members of the public who video record them because this can inform officers' formal procedural actions as an incident unfolds. The current study was designed to provide a snapshot of officers' views of citizens who record them and their views of actions in high-profile videos of police who have been recorded in the line of duty.

A Conceptual Background of Relationships between the Police and the Public

There has been a significant amount of theoretical development related to explaining how police interact with the public. Most of this work emerged during the 1970s and early 1980s in the wake of the civil unrest of the late 1960s to try and understand how police carried out their duties. The majority of this scholarly discussion has focused on police behavior as the most important outcome, but it can also offer some insight into how officers develop presumptions about the public, and those who may be most likely to video record them.

In their general examination of the social behavior of police, Sykes and Brent (1983) explain how officers, as human beings, have "...the power to structure their reality both cognitively and behaviorally" (p. 26). Police officers develop their ways of seeing the world based on their preconceptions and experiences with the public. …

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