Suggestions For Cops In the Days of Live Streaming

With cameras everywhere, live streaming is becoming more common, and dealing with the public has become a way to end up all over social media.

This wasn’t my team’s first time being live-streamed by a citizen. Somewhat ironically, our body-worn cameras were also running according to law and policy.

Here are some pointers for young cops who aren’t accustomed to having cellphone cameras jammed in their faces:

Know The Law

Know the law! I’m amazed by how many of these amateur “journalists” or protestors know legal issues better than police officers. Chief among these are Fourth Amendment search and seizure powers and limitations. (Note: I also suggest that department policy mirrors or references case law.)

Keep It Simple

Learn how to explain the law and your justifications in simple, everyday language. But also in ways that don’t divulge too many details that would jeopardize an investigation. (For the academics out here, this is the “procedural justice” or “legitimacy” piece.)

Don’t Get Sucked In

Understand that many of these people don’t really want answers to their questions. Some of them simply want to make you look foolish, lose your temper, or get flustered. Be polite and professional. Offer answers, but don’t force them on those not interested in listening. Some of these people want dramatic content.

“First Amendment Auditing” has become a career only because we’ve given them so much good content. Don’t give them that content!

Keep Your Cool

Keep your cool. This means you might restrain yourself from otherwise legally permissible searches or seizures for those who are defiant or getting in the way. I don’t suggest placing ourselves in too much risk. However, we should reconsider the (often foolish) concept of “controlling” a situation. We’ve got to be comfortable with a little chaos, especially chaos caused by those who aren’t really an articulable threat to us.

Name and Badge Number

When someone asks for your name and badge number, give it. It’s that simple, but be careful because sometimes they are just trying to antagonize you, so don’t get sucked into a conversation.

Supervisor Request

When someone asks for a supervisor or the person in charge, do what you can to get that person to the scene. (I get it; the boss isn’t always available.) If it’s you, own it. That’s what we get paid for.

Be Human

Make reasonable accommodations. Allow people in custody or on-scene to get clothes, shoes, baby diapers, car seats, pets, bathroom access, etc. Again, when it is safe to do so and without jeopardizing evidence. Denying access to these basic things will make you look like a fool.

Body Cams and Live Streaming
This wasn’t my team’s first time being live-streamed by a citizen.

Stay Focused

Stay focused and on-task. Don’t let rowdy onlookers distract you from your primary mission or objective. “Arresting the neighborhood” will have a horrible impact in the short and long term.

John Robert added some thoughts on LinkedIn, “This is very sound advice for those doing a difficult job in today’s environment. Remember, you swore an oath to the Constitution, and even when they are being…less than civil…these are the people you swore to serve. That said, Officer Safety is paramount, so don’t let that take a back seat. Remember that for *most* people, their contact with you is a Significant Emotional Event because it is outside of their normal life experience. You have all the authority you need, which is not in dispute (even if they emotionally dispute it at the time). They are perfectly entitled to their opinions, however, unartfully, those opinions are expressed. Remember to adopt the “Peace Officer” mentality, not “Law Enforcement” when engaging. Be human. Be compassionate. You can still do your duty under the law. ”

Spoiler: All of this advice holds whether you’re being filmed or not. It’s just basic, good policing.

Always remember, “the camera is ALWAYS on,” and officer safety takes you home alive! Remember, it’s not personal; just let the insults go.


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