Greg Ellifritz discusses the unintended consequences of recording the police:
As citizens record officers with increasing frequency, what do you think the officers are likely to do? If there’s a high probability that no matter what an officer does (good or bad) will end up on YouTube in a video critical of police, cops will simply stop working. You see, cops are rarely disciplined for NOT doing something. They get in trouble when they ACT, particularly when the action the officer takes turns out badly or has some undesirable political ramifications. The easiest way to prevent that is for the officer to stop doing ANYTHING that has the potential of being videotaped. The officer can drive slowly to calls of violence in progress (claiming that he would be putting the public at risk if he drove any faster), arriving just in time to write a stellar report without catching the criminal or stopping the crime in progress. People don’t videotape cops writing reports. That’s not exciting. It’s when the cops are interacting with criminals that the cell phones come out. A simple solution to avoid being taped would be to AVOID INTERACTING WITH CRIMINALS. How do you think that would affect long term crime statistics? Would it be a net positive or net negative for society if cops stopped arresting people breaking the law?
Since it’s obvious that a crime in progress isn’t the only thing that will cause people to break out the cameras, cops will start avoiding interactions with citizens as well. I could have easily driven past the man flagging me down for help. If I was ever questioned about it by supervisors (unlikely), I could always claim that I didn’t see the man or that I was trying to catch up to a traffic violator. I could claim I was en route to another more important call. There could be any number of valid reasons why I didn’t stop for help.
Driving past a person flagging me down for help would ensure that I don’t get videotaped. Avoiding all citizen contact would ensure that my face doesn’t end up on YouTube. I could sit all day in a parking lot doing nothing and virtually ensure that I don’t get taped. The worst thing that would happen is that I might get some kind of reprimand for lack of “productivity.” A written reprimand is a far better option than having my face on a negative YouTube video that goes viral.
So if cops stop arresting criminals and go out of their way to avoid having any type of contact with citizens, would society be a better place? If the goal of the folks with the video cameras is social reform, that’s what they’ll get. But the reform that will happen won’t be a positive one. That makes me think that maybe these folks filming the cops don’t really want social reform. Maybe they want a world where criminals go unchallenged. Maybe they place their own fame and notoriety above the goal of living in a better society. If personal notoriety and unchecked criminal aggression is your goal, then by all means keep filming cops who are loaning their cell phones to stranded construction workers.
The truly sad aspect of where this is heading is the long term effect that it will have on the ability to hire quality police candidates. If I was a conscientious and intelligent person, why would I even consider being a police officer as a career when I know that whatever I do, good or bad, will end up on a video sharing site with a negative spin? Why go through the hassle? Quality candidates will have better career options that don’t involve their unintended starring role in the next viral video.