Cellphone videos offer challenge to officers

By AUTUMN HUGHES and TIM SINIARD
Posted 6/17/18

The April 8 incident between Bradley County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a man using his cell phone to record video – along with other similar incidents easily found on social media – has raised questions about how incidents of this kind should be handled. 

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Cellphone videos offer challenge to officers

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The April 8 incident between Bradley County Sheriff’s Office deputies and a man using his cellphone to record video — along with other similar incidents easily found on social media — has raised questions about how incidents of this kind should be handled.

BCSO Chief Deputy James Bradford said he is unaware if a training module specific to deputies dealing with members of the public recording them with cellphones is being used at the Sheriff’s Office.

“We offer training as far as the Constitutional rights of residents and citizens,” he said. “The cellphone issue is an evolving conversation.”

Bradford said if somebody is filming anything, as long as it is not jeopardizing public safety, “they can clearly do so.”

“It’s just the time and place we live in,” Bradford said. “Everybody has cellphones, and everyone has the right to record … as long as it’s not a violation of the law.”

BCSO Director of Training Julie Quinn (Peace Officer Standards and Training) was not available to comment, but Bradford said he understands there will be research into the issue and implementation of additional training. Bradford said officers go through 40 hours of POST training per year.

“Our deputies are well trained all across the board on dealing with different incidents,” he said. “This was just a unique incident. We’re recognizing it and trying to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Bradford said there’s no guideline on what people post on social media because “our country has the freedom of speech and the freedom of expressing whatever you want to express.”

And while not everyone may agree with something being posted online, it is the public’s right to share those videos and images. However, the individuals posting and sharing the video should also acknowledge it could cause a jeopardy of public safety because lack of context in what is happening in a situation.

“You’re just getting a brief snippet of an incident,” Bradford said of videos posted online, some of which may be edited and not show what led to an incident and what happened afterward.

“A person just has to take responsibility for what they say or whatever they portray, or they post, whether it's good or bad," he said. “Just take it in context of what is the purpose of portraying whatever you’re portraying on social media.

"We live in a digital age where everything is posted. There’s not many guidelines, there’s not many boundaries that are set,” he added.

Bradford said law enforcement has one perspective and the public has another perspective, but creating a dialog between the two groups is important and beneficial.

Bradley County Sheriff-Elect Steve Lawson said he wasn’t present when the April 8 incident occurred and is not certain what happened. However, he thinks the department needs to make sure officers are trained and know what “we can and can’t do.”

“I believe we need overall training in the phone dos and don’ts,” Lawson said.
Also, he said officers and members of the public need to be respectful to each other during encounters.

Lawson noted there are other areas of training he wants to pursue for BCSO personnel when he takes office in September.

“I want them to be the best prepared for any situation,” he said.

The April 8 incident stems from a video of a traffic stop conducted by BCSO deputies. The video was later posted on social media. According to a story previously published in the Cleveland Daily Banner, a Cleveland man, Jamichael Parks, was handcuffed and questioned by deputies while he was filming the event. His cellphone was also seized, but was later returned. Both deputies were later disciplined.

While the online video depicts 2 ½ minutes of the incident, BCSO deputies noted the remaining portion of the 45-minute traffic stop was not included in the social media posting.

Dr. Luis C. Almeida, professor of communication at Lee University, was asked to share his perspective of whether people have any responsibilities or obligations when posting videos online.

“There is little doubt that smartphones and social media platforms can be both empowering and damaging to society,” Almeida stated in an email. “Sure, citizens’ ability to capture video is empowering. Citizens, however, must be careful not to demonize the police or abuse their rights as citizens for the sake of technology. Police officers, like you and me, must be treated with respect.”

Almeida has published articles and presented academic conference presentations relating to communication technology and education in several academic journals. He is also the technology critic who has written, talked and published academic articles and two books on the importance of using technology moderately. Almeida has also written columns for the Cleveland Daily Banner.

Cleveland Police Department chief of police Mark Gibson said younger generations of police officers are not bothered by videos taken of their actions.

“The new generation of officers are used to it,” Gibson said. “The challenge is the veteran officers. The young officers don’t pay as much attention to it. It’s just part of the job.”

And it is not just the public who is filming, Gibson noted. There are numerous cameras present today at public and private buildings, roads and intersections.

“Today — cameras are everywhere,” he said.

According to FindLaw.com, those filming police while they are performing their duties in public may have their cellphones confiscated by police officers if the person is personally being arrested for a crime or if the video captures a crime committed by another person. However, according to the website, courts have consistently ruled that recording police duties is legal, as long as such actions do not get in the way of officers performing their duties.

Gibson said training is key to performing police duties in tense situations that may later appear in a video online on YouTube.

“The focus is on how to respond,” he said. “If someone is filming with a cellphone, it’s important to know to not become emotional.”

One of the training methods Gibson utilizes centers on de-escalation, which helps to keep emotions in check, resulting in a calmer situation for the officers as well as those apprehended.

“They learn how to use the right words, the right commands,” Gibson said. “It’s about making good decisions.”

Conducted quarterly, the de-escalation training consists of officers using a simulator that guides them through examples of how to respond during arrests or other encounters with the public.

“It goes through several stages on the use of force,” Gibson said.

While many who film police encounters with suspects do not purposely interfere or hinder law enforcement officers during traffic stops or arrests, Gibson said there are those who purposely try to antagonize police officers.

“They will try to push as far as they can, but they need to remember that we are filming, too,” Gibson said. “But it has to be pretty overt to be intrusive. If it becomes a safety concern, then the officer may have to make a tough decision.”

Gibson said he understands filming police officers falls within the realm of Constitutional rights and officers are updated each year on those rights.
“It’s a Constitutional law issue, and we understand that,” Gibson said. “Officers need to understand the law to keep themselves in check.”

Another method Gibson advocates is using traditional police uniforms that do not resemble military or combat attire.

“We are not looking for officers who want to look like they are in Seal Team 6,” Gibson said.

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