Po­lice fear ‘YouTube ef­fect’ af­fect­ing work

Could ex­plain rise in vi­o­lent crime

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

Editor’s note: An­drea Noble served as a pan­elist at the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Po­lice Or­ga­ni­za­tions’ sem­i­nar on the me­dia.

SAN AN­TO­NIO | Law en­force­ment of­fi­cers from around the coun­try say they are in­creas­ingly con­cerned that video record­ings of their in­ter­ac­tions with the pub­lic are be­ing used to show them in a neg­a­tive light, cre­at­ing a “YouTube ef­fect” that is af­fect­ing how they do their jobs and, ac­cord­ing to the FBI’s di­rec­tor, could be be­hind a re­cent rise in vi­o­lent crime.

The preva­lence of smart­phones, cou­pled with in­creased use of so­cial me­dia, has given ev­ery­day cit­i­zens the tools to doc­u­ment and re­port in­ci­dents of po­lice mis­con­duct and abuse in real time.

But as more civil­ians whip out their cell­phones to record and later share po­lice in­ter­ac­tions on so­cial me­dia, of­fi­cers say they feel un­der at­tack when videos are posted on­line that cap­ture a con­fronta­tion but mis­rep­re­sent the en­tirety of the ex­change.

It’s given rise to the fear among law en­force­ment of “death by me­dia,” as Lt. Gary Vick­ers of the Ne­wark, New Jer­sey, Po­lice Depart­ment, calls it.

“Am I go­ing to be the next one who is put on dis­play for do­ing an hon­est job?” said Lt. Vick­ers, who rep­re­sents po­lice man­age­ment through the Su­pe­rior Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion. “It re­ally dic­tates how a po­lice of­fi­cer re­acts to­day.”

To com­bat what they see as a grow­ing anti-po­lice sen­ti­ment among the pub­lic, unions rep­re­sent­ing law en­force­ment agen­cies are em­brac­ing new strate­gies to ed­u­cate the com­mu­ni­ties they po­lice about their jobs and to hu­man­ize of­fi­cers.

“We had such great pub­lic sup­port right af­ter 9/11, and to­day that sup­port is gone,” said Michael McHale, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Po­lice Or­ga­ni­za­tions (NAPO).

Of­fi­cers from more than 30 agen­cies gath­ered last week at an an­nual NAPO con­ven­tion in San An­to­nio in an ef­fort to learn how to re­build that sup­port. The two-day sem­i­nar fo­cused on how agen­cies can in­ter­act dif­fer­ently with “hos­tile me­dia,” high­light­ing strate­gies to show­case pos­i­tive news from their agen­cies and to bet­ter han­dle dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, such as a fa­tal shoot­ing by an of­fi­cer.

Of­fi­cers in at­ten­dance also de­bated the ex­tent to which the so-called YouTube ef­fect has af­fected how of­fi­cers do their jobs.

Sgt. An­drew Ro­mano, chair­man of the Austin Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion’s Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee, said he doesn’t be­lieve that fear of be­ing video­taped is caus­ing po­lice to be less ag­gres­sive and to make fewer stops. But the dis­tri­bu­tion of such videos, which Austin Po­lice Chief Art Acevedo noted are of­ten de­void of con­text that would bet­ter ex­plain the of­fi­cers’ ac­tions, can fuel neg­a­tive per­cep­tions of a depart­ment.

“It af­fects re­cruit­ing, re­ten­tion and morale,” Sgt. Ro­mano said.

How­ever, the the­ory that ad­di­tional scru­tiny and crit­i­cism of po­lice of­fi­cers, spawned by un­rest in Fer­gu­son, Mis­souri, over a fa­tal po­lice shoot­ing, has con­trib­uted to an uptick in vi­o­lent crime in some ma­jor ci­ties ap­pears to be gain­ing trac­tion.

In a speech given Fri­day at the Univer­sity of Chicago Law School, FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey said in­creased at­ten­tion on po­lice could be mak­ing of­fi­cers less proac­tive and em­bold­en­ing crim­i­nals.

“I don’t know whether that ex­plains it en­tirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the ex­pla­na­tion is a chill wind that has blown through Amer­i­can law en­force­ment over the last year,” Mr. Comey said, ac­knowl­edg­ing that so far there are no data that back up the the­ory.

Po­lice chiefs from across the coun­try are strug­gling to iden­tify the causes of crime spikes this year in sev­eral ma­jor ci­ties, point­ing to a host of po­ten­tial fac­tors in­clud­ing the rise of syn­thetic drug use, preva­lence of il­le­gal guns and re­cent re­leases of of­fend­ers from pri­son.

But the added stress of con­stantly be­ing seen in a neg­a­tive light is tak­ing its toll.

“We al­ways knew we were be­ing sec­ond-guessed,” said Sgt. Louis Dini, sec­re­tary of the Suf­folk County Po­lice Depart­ment’s Su­pe­rior Of­fi­cers As­so­ci­a­tion. “But now even when you ex­plain what you did, you are thought of as ly­ing.”

The scru­tiny has had an up­side: De­part­ments have re­formed their prac­tices by scal­ing back con­tro­ver­sial pro­grams, bet­ter doc­u­ment­ing in­ter­ac­tions with cit­i­zens and spring­ing for body­worn cam­eras to record their in­ter­ac­tions with the pub­lic.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.