Cellphone videos have increasingly been used as a powerful tool for police accountability and to deter misconduct. But the ability to livestream and share video of violence in real time is now being described as a watershed moment for video evidence. It has also renewed a debate over what's at stake when raw footage of violence is released in realtime."This ability to livestream video could be a huge change in terms of how the public is involved in these sorts of incidents," said Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of Southern California who researches the use of police body cameras.
'This ability to livestream video could be a huge change in terms of how the public is involved in these sorts of incidents.'
Stoughton said that while livestreaming police confrontations with the public can increase transparency and can give people quicker access to information, it raises a host of new concerns for the legal process."Who would then be subpoenaed as a witness in these cases? Everyone who commented?" he asked. "And looking past the investigative stage, it's going to be a huge challenge for police agencies who are trying not to jeopardize the integrity of an investigation, and also the way they communicate with the public after incidents."Even when police are equipped with body cameras, it doesn't mean the technology will be used as intended. In the Minnesota shooting, the officer wasn't outfitted with a camera, but there was a dashcam in his vehicle. In Baton Rouge, police officials said the officers were wearing body cameras, but they came loose as police pinned Sterling to the ground.The footage has not yet been released to the public, but the Department of Justice is reportedly reviewing it.
I am angry, embarrassed, disgusted and heartbroken.#facebook live is the new body cam
— Tasha (@Carterladytc1)July 7, 2016
A number of police forces in Minnesota have purchased body cameras. In May, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a law that outlines exactly how and when state police forces can use body cams, but does not make the devices mandatory. The officers in Castile's case, from the St. Anthony Police Department, do not yet use body cameras. Without Reynolds' Facebook broadcast, the altercation likely would have never been committed to film.Despite the ubiquity of camera-equipped cellphones, police still often attempt to block members of the public from filming them. A new lawsuit filed this week against New York City and the New York Police Department alleges that NYPD officers routinely interfere with people's right to video record public police activity by taking away their phones, blocking them, and arresting or threatening them.
When you have been profiled and attacked by police, who do you call? She literally went to Facebook Live. It's all she could do.
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing)July 7, 2016
Stoughton warned that no evidence is perfect, and we shouldn't expect more from civilian video or livestreaming than we do from other forms of evidence."Very often we have a tendency to assume that video is going to be more comprehensive and neutral and accurate than other forms of evidence and video is not necessarily any of those things," he said. "It will be important to retain a healthy commitment to critical thinking when reviewing video evidence."He predicted there will likely be more and more instances where Facebook Live is used to capture police interactions with the community."This will be another way police will be put in the spotlight," he said, "but more also video means examples for people to talk and argue about what they saw or didn't see."Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne