Lately I've seen some strange photos and videos posted on the internet. Many of the pictures and movies that appear on certain websites are obscene in my estimation, yet there they are for everyone to see. People are caught in humiliating and embarrassing situations; some of them appear to be willing participants while others seem to be unaware that a lens is pointed in their direction. It's this latter group that I refer to in this article.
The ubiquitous camera... one cannot seem to escape its reach. We are being constantly monitored from the time we leave our homes until we finally return. And even then some of us have cameras on both the outside and inside of our property. It seems that there is not one place where we can escape and breathe a sigh of relief. Schools, churches, supermarkets and malls, they are all equipped with cameras. The big cities have them. New York and Chicago put cameras up in busy downtown areas and in high crime neighborhoods hoping to spot those that break the law. Let's not forget the speed and red light cameras that are in vogue. Money makers for sure, but are all of these cameras good for society? And does the presence of so many recording devices cause all of us to change our normal behavior?
I know that I date myself when I tell you that when I first became a cop the last thing on our mind was whether someone was taking our picture. Cameras were not cheap; moreover the ability to develop and print the film was an expensive laborious process. Generally speaking it took several days to get a look at the finished product. Videos? Forget about it. No one took videos because the cameras were burdensome to carry and operate. Lighting was a problem; one needed to have an annoyingly bright light mounted on top of the camera to illuminate the subject. In short it was best left to the professionals.
Fast forward to 2008... who doesn't have a camera? Little children are walking around with cell phones, all of which are capable of taking both photos and videos. Storage media in the form of digital images not only allows for instant results, but now anyone can edit a photo to change it from its original form to something entirely different (Can you say Photoshop?) Photos used to be best evidence in court, now their credibility is easily challenged.
So what does this mean to you as a police officer? How has your behavior changed, or has it remained the same? One aspect of this picture-crazed society that we live in is that you must now include the possibility of your actions being recorded whenever you respond to an incident. Are you reacting to a situation as your training and experience dictates, or are you acting differently because you see someone with a camera, or suspect that someone may be taping you? This has a direct effect on your reactionary time. It's not unlike being in a deadly force situation and waiting to act because you are worried about how your actions will be portrayed on the evening news. It all serves to limit your ability to act and react quickly.
Now the moral question about your actions that begs to be asked: Would your behavior be the same whether or not cameras were involved? Were you previously acting in a manner that was improper or unethical, but now the possibility that you may be filmed has that caused you to act more appropriately? Are you now simply playing to the camera?
Trainers see this phenomenon all the time. Put two or three people in a scenario, perhaps in a simulator, and we often see atypical behavior. Throw in a supervisor to observe them as they go through a scenario, and the atypical behavior is even more pronounced. What actually occurs is that the officers behave in a manner in which they think either the evaluator or the supervisor expects them to act. They aren't their normal selves; they are acting out. The danger of course is the principle that says, The way you train is the way you fight is violated. Ergo, when they are confronted with the same situation on the street their reaction time is adversely impacted causing them to be further behind the power curve. That can get you hurt or killed.
So what's the answer? How do we navigate through this camera laden society without it having too much of an impact on us? If you look at it from the perspective of cameras as impartial observers, especially dashcams, they can actually work in our favor. More than one officer has seen a beef thrown out due to dashcam evidence refuting whatever the complainant had to say.
I submit that the way to avoid most problems of this nature is to act responsibly and morally - just be you. There will be times when you have to thump somebody - we're cops, it's the nature of the job. It's when we give them that extra smack that they didn't need. It's when we give them that boot in the butt after the cuffs are on that we expose ourselves to litigation and prosecution.
Remember we are not the judge and jury; rather we are the keepers of the peace. We are the ones that sort out the confusion and bring those most responsible to the arbiters of the law. They will decide on punishment or mercy. If you do the right thing, the rest of it will take care of itself.
Stay safe brothers and sisters!