Wednesday, November 11, 2015

For Cops, All the World's Indeed a Stage

If you can remember a time before personal computers and cell phones, or are a fan of classic rock, or you are Canadian, you may have heard of the iconic rock band Rush. 

What does any of this have to do with Criminal Justice? Or for those who have never even heard of Rush, WTF does this have to do with Criminal Justice? I promise I'll try to make the connection. 

One of the band's most famous songs is called Limelight. Known for their deep lyrics, the song refers to the challenges of being famous and always being in the "limelight" borrowing a little from Shakespeare along the way:

Cast in this unlikely role,
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact

Living in a fish eye lens
Caught in the camera eye
I have no heart to lie
I can't pretend a stranger
Is a long-awaited friend

In more than one way, this song reminds us of the challenges the modern police officer faces as they find themselves more and more in the "limelight." 

In a world of body cams, smart phones, dash cams, CCTV etc., doing the right thing even when no one is watching, is becoming somewhat of an outdated principle. Because for the police officer,  EVERYONE  is watching! 

Whether you wanted it or not, when you decided to put on that uniform, you are now on stage, with the likelihood of being captured by the camera eye. 

What may start out as a simple traffic stop, could go viral in minutes. In fact, the ACLU has launched a cell phone App for the sole purpose of easily recording police interactions. The videos are uploaded to a storage location so even if the recording is interrupted or the cell phone destroyed, the encounter is saved.

There is no use in even debating whether the increased video documentation of a police officer's interactions is a good thing. Whether you are for it, or against it, the toothpaste is out of the tube and you can't put it back in. 

The question is how do agencies and officers deal with the likely possibility  they may instantly become viral #heroes or #fails ? Their split-second reaction to an unexpected incident being played over and over with every second of footage being analyzed days and months later. 

Technology has made every citizen a videographer and via social media, a reporter also. News is now made by average citizens with phones. It is their posts and tweets that becomes "the news". It is the law enforcement officer who is the lead character in this reality show.

How do we teach officers to not let the fear of going viral make them abandon the necessary officer safety tactics? Or ensure they take necessary enforcement action even if it may look bad later on YouTube?

These are just a few of the increased challenges that our LEO's face while "living on the lighted stage."


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