Police Officers Fear ‘YouTube Effect’ Impacting Job Performance

As police officers across the country are expressing concern over a “YouTube effect” resulting from the public’s ability to document and publish police activity with smartphones, the director of the FBI suggested this effect may be contributing to a recent rise in violent crime.

The Washington Times reported that officers from over 30 agencies gathered in San Antonio for an annual National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) convention last week, where one of the main topics highlighted how to deal with “hostile media” with examples including officer-involved fatal shootings.

Lt. Gary Vickers of the Newark, New Jersey Police Department, indicated that he fears “death by media” if a video of his performance on the job were to go viral.

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

FBI Director James Comey told the Chicago Sun-Times that he believes the rise in violent crime is due to the fact that “something in policing has changed” and many officers now  “feel under siege.”

“In today’s YouTube world, there are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime,” Comey said. “Our officers are answering 911 calls, but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns.”

Comey also said when it comes to sentencing reform and lowering mass incarceration rates, he thinks Americans should debate the issue with “a fair understanding of history.”He used an example of Richmond, Virginia in the 1990s when he said that after dozens of men were incarcerated for trafficking narcotics, violence dropped in the area and citizens felt safer.

The “Youtube effect” was discussed by top law enforcement at a private meeting earlier this month. The Washington Post reported that a “unifying- and controversial- theory” was reached at this meeting, suggesting that officers have been dialing down on aggressive policing over fear of appearing on “a career-ending viral video.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the meeting that “we have allowed our police department to get fetal and it is having a direct consequence.”

“They have pulled back from the ability to interdict … they don’t want to be a news story themselves, they don’t want their career ended early, and it’s having an impact.”

RT noted that while “homicides in 35 big U.S. cities are up 19 percent on average this year, and non-fatal shootings are up 62 percent, according to a police association survey,” there is also a rise in police killings.

According to a list from The Guardian, 931 people have been killed by police in the United States in 2015 thus far, with “black Americans killed by police twice as likely to be unarmed as white people.”

Cell phone footage has challenged some narratives of police officers in the cases of fatal shootings involving victims including Walter Scott, who was shot and killed while running away from an officer after a traffic stop in April, and Jeremy McDole, who was shot and killed while sitting in his wheelchair on the street in September.

In both cases, the officers’ official story of the suspect being armed was challenged by a bystander’s video that was released online.

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Rachel Blevins is a journalist who aspires to break the left/right paradigm in media and politics by pursuing truth and questioning existing narratives.

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