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Cops on Camera

A very modern challenge for a police officer is the use of personal recording equipment. The advent of mobile phones have made audio/visual recording equipment available to everyone we come in contact with, and they use it liberally. YouTube is filled with such videos. This article will look at the dangers of such technology, and how it can help us.

I am going to use the below video as an example throughout this article, so if you haven't seen it before take a look now.


What does the video show at face value? The video shows an interaction between a cyclist and a police officer. The cyclist has chosen to record the interaction, and answer no questions unless he is required to do so. The latter being a right, and the former being a precaution...a precaution suggesting that the cyclist has had bad experiences with the police in the past. The officer appears to be fairly condescending, and cannot (or will not) clearly point to any lawful authority when challenged. When the officer decides that he has had enough of being filmed he uses violence, without warning, to take the phone away from the cyclist. This attempted theft results in the cyclist cycling away, and the officer not giving chase.

Is this an accurate interpretation of what we have seen? Yes. Is this an accurate interpretation of what actually happened? We don't know. We dont know what happened before the interaction. We don't know how much the clip was edited. We do know that it was filmed by someone who was provocative throughout the interaction. We also know that the officer managed the interaction badly.

There is very little officers can do about the way these films are edited, so they have to look to their own behaviour in order to manage the resulting film. Lets take a look at the cops as people.

As a Police Officer one needs to be very self aware to avoid situations like this. In one 12 hour shift an officer can go from dealing with a burglary, to dealing with a suicide, to dealing with a missing person, to being assaulted outside of a pub. We are rightly expected to compartmentalise each job in order to provide the best service to the public, but sometimes this is not possible. To the lesser extreme; this officer may have stopped 15 other cyclists for the same offence that day. It can be easy to forget that each contact leaves a lasting impression, and where that impression is bad it reflects on all police officers, not just the one involved.

In actual fact, i don't think the public ever expect us to be perfect. They know we are human. I think problems occur when we try to hide that fact. In this video the officer clearly couldn't quote the exact piece of legislation. Does he need to be able to do that? No.

My point here is that it can be easy to find the camera an intimidating new development. Some people will set out to wind officers up in order to get a good youtube video. When dealing with situations like this it can put a lot of pressure on the officer to deal with things perfectly...it's this pressure can lead you down a path that is difficult to come back from. Don't ever be afraid to reassess a situation, and your own behaviour, and admit to yourself that "i was wrong", and choose another, possibly more human, approach.

So what advice would you give to officers in these situations? Have you had any experiences similar? and do you agree in my 'face value' interpretation of the above video? I am also aware of a video that shows an inspector dealing with a similar situation very well. I couldnt find it, does anyone know which one i mean?