Training law enforcement to deal with phone cameras

law enforcement

The advent of cell phones is transforming the landscape of law enforcement. The crucial question emerges: are police departments adequately instructing their officers to comprehend and circumvent the challenges accompanying this burgeoning trend?

It’s not merely the phone itself but the embedded camera that is reshaping the dynamics between law enforcement and the public. Almost every adult now possesses a phone with a built-in video camera, and with each passing day, individuals become more adept at using it during interactions with the police. The training law enforcement provides its officers in dealing with a camera in close proximity could determine whether an encounter remains routine or escalates into a civil rights lawsuit.

Around five years ago, individuals known as First Amendment Auditors began testing the boundaries of free speech and press freedoms by intentionally recording inside public spaces such as post offices and libraries. Many of these government buildings had policies restricting camera usage, though these were policies, not laws. Auditors utilized their camera phones to challenge these policies, establishing a formula where they would enter a building, provoke a confrontation, escalate it upon police arrival, and then record the incident for social media. The success of the video, measured by the intensity of the police confrontation, became a source of revenue for auditors, leading to a wave of new auditors nationwide.

However, the real concern for government officials and police commanders lies in the potential for civil rights violations. Often, police officers lack extensive training on the nuances of the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. Being recorded while violating an individual’s right to free speech or protection from unreasonable searches could result in expensive lawsuits and judgments for financially strained municipalities.

An unintended consequence of these confrontations is the psychological toll they can take on the officers being recorded. The internet is forever. And the content means these exchanges could haunt well-intentioned officers for decades. This issue is escalating as more motorists use their phones to record routine traffic stops.

The solution lies in comprehensive media training, commencing with recruits at the academy and extending to ongoing education for veteran officers. Emphasis should be placed on the expectation of being recorded and a profound understanding of the Bill of Rights, particularly the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments.

Law enforcement already faces the challenging task of protecting the public from harm, and it is imperative that officers receive adequate training to prevent them from being lured into situations that could jeopardize their careers or unnecessarily burden taxpayers with legal expenses.