Captured on Video: Managing the Risks to Law Enforcement, Security Personnel and Other Employees
Videos have become a fixture of modern life, from a bank’s security camera to a bystander’s smartphone at a fire scene. Increasingly, this video footage is being used as evidence in court cases involving law enforcement agencies, their officers and security personnel. Public safety departments need to develop social media and video policies and conduct regular training so staff can understand the benefits and risks of video.
For law officers, video can be an asset. The use of body-worn and dashboard cameras can support their work in the community by objectively capturing an event as it occurs, adding transparency to their interactions. However, video presents the officer and his or her department with new risks, such as those related to privacy, and the potential to portray the officer in a negative light.
Social media also presents a new issue for law enforcement. When cases go to court, some juries are receptive to the argument that officers may have a pre-prejudiced position based on evidence supplied from the content of an officer’s social media profiles or photos of officers that may have been taken while the officers are on or off-duty. These images can potentially reflect poorly on the officer, the law agency as well as the public entity.
Here are five tips to help manage the risk:
- Develop a body-worn camera policy. Having a detailed policy that outlines how, when and why body-worn and dashboard cameras and other recording devices will be used can help protect officers by establishing a consistent standard across the department. To be effective, this training should cover common concerns, including citizen privacy, officer privacy, logistics, challenges in communicating with citizens and the potential consequences for failing to adhere to the camera policy.
- Train officers on response to citizen filming. In addition to body-worn and dashboard cameras, departments should also address situations in which civilians record an incident. The training should include how the officer can appropriately respond to being recorded to help avoid, among other things, potential escalation among bystanders. Officers should be trained to act in the same appropriate manner regardless of whether cameras are rolling.
- Establish a social media policy. Create a policy around social media accounts for public safety employees. If a law enforcement officer chooses to maintain or participate in social media activity or on social networking platforms while off-duty, consider developing guidelines or rules to make sure that he or she acts in a manner that does not reflect negatively upon the agency or its mission. Provide instruction to officers on the potential negative consequences of social media participation, such as the potential for the officer’s social media posts to be presented in a court case where he or she is a witness or a defendant.
- Establish standards for off-duty conduct. Video taken when an officer was off-duty may be used in a case against the officer or department.
- Learn from other cases. With assistance from legal counsel, review other court cases that involve security and law officers and video and social media evidence. Determine if existing policies and training procedures need to be updated based on recent legal decisions or pertinent related community relations matters. Update training policies as new social media platforms and techniques emerge.
Establishing clear policies and training staff both initially and periodically about video and social media best practices can help public safety officers protect both their own and their department’s reputations and professionalism, which can help grow trust with the community. Training can also help officers better understand the potential benefits and risks posed by video recording and social media activity.
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