The proliferation of Mobile video cameras conditions police interventions

“How has the omnipresence of video recording equipment affected police behaviour linked to the use of force as any person can now directly publish such recordings on the social network? ” This is the question that the investigation published by the British Journal of Criminology and carried out by Gregory R. Brown, police officer and doctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Carleton University (Canada) aimed to answer [1].

The initial hypothesis is that the relationship between the police and the public has been conditioned by three technology-related factors: the proliferation of appliances which can be used to record, the involvement of a large segment of the population in so-called ‘citizen journalism’ and the proliferation of new sources of media where the public can publish such content. This has meant that the task of the police is now much more visible and that officers feel that they are permanently being observed and questioned when using force during an intervention.

In order to find out the extent of this perception among police officers, Brown used a double methodology, quantitative and qualitative. For the quantitative part, 231 police officers were interviewed (129 from Toronto and 102 from Ottawa), who had to have had at least 10 years’ experience of patrolling urban areas. For the qualitative part, 20 semi-structured interviews were done with 20 of these officers (10 from each city), as well as other interviews with political and union leaders, chiefs of police and and experts in the use of police force. This fieldwork was done between the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.

The results were clear enough in most cases.

  • 94% of the police officers stated that they were aware of having been recorded by citizens while they were doing their work (only 6% stated that this was the case before 2000).
  • Over half gave the highest mark possible to their worry about being concerned at any moment while doing their police tasks.
  • Nearly 70% of the officers said that often or very often video recordings were a main source of conversations at work.
  • 74% of participants interviewed said that they had changed their approach in some way because of the possibility that they might be recorded, and for 128 of these officers these changes were related to interventions involving the use of force.

These quantitative results were ratified in all cases with qualitative information obtained via interview.

[1] Brown, G . (2016). The Blue Line on Thin Ice. Police Use of Force Modifications in the Era of Cameraphones and YouTube. British Journal of Criminology, 56 (2). Pàg. 293-312. DOI:10.1093/bjc/azv052

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