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Police departments around the country are now adding social media platforms to their array of crime fighting tools. They’re using sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to get help identifying suspects, connect rightful owners with their stolen property and share real-time information about investigations. But this activity on social media has raised some privacy concerns, especially when some officers share photos of arrested suspects before they’re even convicted. Kojo looks at the evolution of police work in the online world.
- Alex Howard Fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia Journalism School; former government correspondent, O'Reilly Media
- Mara Verheyden-Hilliard Executive director, Partnership for Civil Justice Fund
- Eugene O'Donnell Professor, Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
- Dionne Waugh Public Affairs Unit, Richmond Police Department
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world on Tech Tuesday.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn the old days, policing might have meant patrolling the block, knocking on doors, and getting to know people in the neighborhood, with the hope that later down the line, those relationships might prevent or solve a crime. Today, many police departments are trying out a similar strategy, but instead of going to the community block party, they're going online to get to know the people they're serving, to sites like Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. And as they work to build online relationships with social media users, they're sharing real-time updates about unfolding investigations, while also gathering tips and evidence about unsolved thefts and even homicides.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut as law enforcement tries out new and innovative ways to use technology like tweeting out photos of a suspect's arrest, some say it's raising red flags about privacy. Here to discuss the changing nature of police work in the digital age is Alex Howard. He is a fellow at the Tow Center for Journalism at Columbia Journalism School. He's also a columnist at Tech Republic. Alex, good to see you again.
MR. ALEX HOWARDIt's great to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Mara, thank you for joining us.
MS. MARA VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by phone from New York is Eugene O'Donnell, professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Eugene O'Donnell, thank you for joining us. Eugene O'Donnell I presume is there, and we'll be hearing from him very, very shortly. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call at 800-433-8850. How would you like to see police use social media sites like Twitter and Facebook? 800-433-8850, you can shoot us a tweet at kojoshow or email to email@example.com. And as a lot of police officers see it, it's part of their job to get to know the community they're serving. So as those communities move online, how are you seeing police work also make the transition to the digital age? Is there such a thing as walking the online beat?
HOWARDI think there is. Certainly if you start to think about how people interact online, there's much more of a conversation now, and that's something that police officers have been having in their communities for a long time. The challenge I think is that many government agencies, police included, have typically come to these places looking to talk and not maybe listen as much. I think there's a shift that we're seeing the past five years as social media has become a much bigger force in society and is no longer a new thing, where there is a two way conversation.
HOWARDAnd we've seen that in quite a prominent way up in New York City on the mynypd hashtag, where the department comes in and wants to have its message get out and have people share good experiences, wants to do the public information officer route where we talk and you all listen and share things. And what they found instead was that many people co-opted the hashtag and shared their grievances, examples of brutality or versions of behavior they didn't like. And I think that's one of the most important things that we can look at in this new dynamic, is that this is a conversation between communities and the law enforcement officers.
HOWARDIt's an opportunity for the officers to share what they're seeing, to share issues of public safety, of concern, whatever they're doing, which may be helpful, and then it's a possibility for the communities to talk back.
NNAMDIThat one in New York did not work out exactly as planned. Eugene, before teaching college, you were a police officer in the New York Police Department. How do you think social media and the new ways people are using technology are changing how police officers do their jobs?
MR. EUGENE O'DONNELLWell there's no question it's a significant factor. It's hard to deduce exactly what the value is in different settings, but certainly in the area of rapidly developing situations, crisises (sic) such as we saw in Boston, it really was an invaluable tool to alert people, and also to get tips to create a one way street, or two way street. I'm more reticent about endorsing it for some of the functions it's been used for, more reluctant to say that it's anything more than a diversion in some cases, whether the resources that go into monitoring social media, whether those resources could be used for a different purpose.
MR. EUGENE O'DONNELLAnd I'm also always concerned that a relatively small number of people can sort of hijack the public agenda, as I think happened at NYPD, where they put up pictures of police officers using force, which is what police officers do, and called that brutality. That is just not brutality.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDI would disagree with that. I think the NYPD situation is a perfect example. I mean, the reality is, while the idea of the police entering social media arenas is being presented by the police as a law enforcement tool, I think we have to recognize it squarely for what it is, which New York shows, it's one more attempt at PR by police departments around the country. And the reality is that social media is much harder for the police, for the government to control.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDSo when the New York police try and use it for PR advantage, or they say, you know, send images to mynypd and they think somehow what they're gonna get is smiley and happy community members with their arms around NYPD officers, what they got from the people in New York City was actually the reality of the experience of very man people in New York City. I mean, you have, you know, as we know, the history of hundreds of thousands of stops and frisks, but we also have frequent and rampant brutality.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDAnd it’s not acceptable, but people had an opportunity to say so and they did. And other people picked it up. They were doing it in L.A., without prompting from the police department, doing mylapd.
NNAMDIAnd that goes right into your work, Mara, your work is really about keeping police and other government agencies accountable. Now police officers are increasingly allowed to tweet about their daily work and share the latest information in investigations. To what extent -- and maybe you think New York is a good example -- do you think new media has helped to make police departments more transparent, in addition to being more accountable?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDWell, new media and social media has made police departments transparent not from within, but from without. The community now, with the advent of cell phone and videos and images and a way to quickly disperse those images without having to go through an existing media structure, allowing people to be their own media, you know, you could see it years ago with the Oscar Grant killing. It was an opportunity for people to be able to show exactly what police officers and police departments are doing without being filtered through the police departments.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDAnd that has caused a huge uproar. I mean, there have been arrests all over the country, where police arrest people for filming them. So while the police want to use media and say it's a transparency initiative, the fact is, they simply want it to be their message, and not necessarily reflecting the reality of people's everyday lives.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, the number to call is 800-433-8850, it's a Tech Tuesday conversation on police on social media. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's take a look at what happened recently in this area, in Prince George's County, where police recently got attention for their social media efforts. The department announcing last week that it would live tweet a prostitution sting. A lot of people criticized that move, saying it could harm innocent people, and while the department never did actually live tweet any of the arrests, what do you think public agencies like police departments should keep in mind when considering new ways to integrate social media into their work? First you, Eugene O'Donnell, and then you, Alex.
O'DONNELLWell I have tremendous concern that some of this is grandstanding, and is trying to get publicity and grab headlines and certainly some of these events where you're putting pictures out, names of individuals, you know, no matter how much you issue a disclaimer that everyone's presumed innocent and you've got to wait until the facts come out, in a case like a prostitution sting, arresting someone and putting their picture out could be the destruction of their career, without any finding of any wrongdoing.
O'DONNELLThey're liable to get a slap on the wrist in criminal court after the case has been proven, but this is happening without any proof whatsoever. The allegation's enough to damn somebody and as the famous saying goes, where does somebody go to get back their reputation? So I would hope that law enforcement thinks long and hard about the consequences of this, and the right that people have, you know, to be presumed innocent and to get a trial.
NNAMDII was just reading this morning about the European Court of Justice ruling on the right to be forgotten, which is something we might do at a later show. But Alex, I'd like to hear your take on it also.
HOWARDYeah, I do think there are valid reasons that go beyond PR for first responders, police enforcement, anyone who's involved, to be on these networks, sharing information about public safety, and that that can be quite important. I think we saw that with the Boston police, I think you can see that in any (word?) community, there's something that the public needs to know, those messages can be shared very rapidly. If cell towers are knocked down, social media is actually a critical second option for people to share back and forth.
HOWARDThe question, however, about sharing pictures of people who have been arrested and not convicted, I think is extremely important to be asking. What we've seen with mug shots, which are public records taken off by departments, is that they then go onto the internet. And speaking of Google search results, Google actually decided to stop listing some of the sights that would take these public records and then charge people to have them removed from their websites. This is a significant issue in a world where just about anyone will look for you online if they meet you for a date or if they're considering hiring you or if you're applying for any kind of position...
HOWARDJust curious. And if those pictures of an arrest show up, even if you haven't been convicted, they will be prejudicial on some level and we know that. And so if we think that anything that goes on the internet tends to stay on the internet, despite this recent ruling in Europe, it's very important for government bodies to be thoughtful about what you're putting into that record, particularly as it pertains to people's reputation, professional standing, etcetera.
NNAMDIMara, what kind of legal questions does that raise, because if you put a photo of somebody who is being taken into custody, or somebody who's being arrested or you say live tweeting arrests, what kind of legal questions does that raise?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDWell, in a way, what PG and other police departments are doing when they announce that they're gonna post or live tweet arrests under those circumstances, it's really a social media perp walk. And it's a modern day version of what they've always done. And doing it for the press, except the difference being that it's not the journalists are reporting, it's that the police themselves are trying to harness the situation to be their own sort of reality show, you know, "To Catch a Predator," or something.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDAnd the fact is, I don't think anyone can look at that situation and say that that really is a law enforcement function. There is nothing about doing that that can have any real meaningful effect on the societal issues undergirding prostitution, that it will have any meaningful effect on the problems of that kind of situation. And what it really does do, aside from johns, you know, being humiliated or something like that...
NNAMDIWell the police would argue that johns would be dissuaded.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDWell, I mean, no one's gonna be dissuaded. You have to be able to address this in a much more serious, societal economic situation in terms of the way that society is organized, and opportunities and the treatment of women. I mean, that's a much broader issue than let me just tweet an arrest of a guy soliciting. And that's not happening, not under those circumstances. But the issue that really does come up is, aside from a john or a suspected john, the humiliation to wives, to children, to families who are completely innocent under all circumstances, is really extreme, and I think completely uncalled for.
NNAMDIHere is Scott in Springfield, Va. Scott, you're on the air, go ahead, please.
SCOTTYeah, I just wanted to make a comment that I think that in general, I would rather see the police inform us through social media, and try to forget about the PR campaign. We just want to know what's happening, where it's happening, and what we can do to stay safe, and I would rather not see stuff about, you know, going to launch some kind of prostitution sting until after it's done.
NNAMDIEugene O'Donnell, what do you say? Shouldn't be done for PR purposes, says Scott.
O'DONNELLShouldn't be done for PR purposes, but maybe this allows me to circle back. One of the issues I think that comes up with social media is the constant repeating of untrue things. We just heard a few of them about brutality and particularly regarding the New York City police department probably the social media world, which often is cut off from the reality world, you know, you'll hear the repeating of the New York City police department, for example, is some sort of brutal organization.
O'DONNELLIn terms of deadly force, this is one of the most restrained organizations, you know, on the planet. But no matter how many times you say that and try to get people to be reflective and thoughtful and use facts and understand that policing is a function of society, constantly, passing more laws, more regulations, more restrictions and dumping that on the cops. Unfortunately, some of these conversations get really simplified and hijacked by a small number of people that, for example, throw pictures up of the police doing what their job is, which is that, we ask them to do, which is among other things, but centrally, to use force on people.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDNo, actually we, as a uniform term, do not ask the police to brutalize people. And the police do brutalize people. And to say that they...
O'DONNELLOkay, and you are now making a distinction, that's what that is.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD...to say that they -- to say that they don't is just untrue.
O'DONNELLThat is a -- that -- you're not making a distinction. They are -- this is what their core function is (unintelligible)
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDI mean, all you have to do is spend time in New York City and...
O'DONNELLAnd that is part...
NNAMDIOkay, one at a time, please.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDFrom communities of color that are brutalized, that are arrested, that are terrorized by police in New York, to even, if you look at the Occupy Movement and the impact that the police had in terms of brutality, mass false arrests. I don’t -- I just don't think there's any question in New York City.
O'DONNELLDid you talk to people at Occupy? Occupy generally said, the people I talked and heard from, generally said, the NYPD did an outstanding job.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDI represent 700 people that were mass-false arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in a completely peaceful protest, who were trapped and arrested and taken off the streets for doing...
O'DONNELLDon’t agree, don't agree (unintelligible) ...
HOWARDOkay, can I...
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDThat’s a fact, they were.
NNAMDIWait, wait a minute. Wait a minute, I'd like to...
O'DONNELLThey had a right to take over the Brooklyn Bridge.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDThey didn't take over the Brooklyn Bridge, they were led onto the Brooklyn Bridge by...
NNAMDIThis quest -- this...
O'DONNELL(unintelligible) no opportunities (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIBut wait a minute, this question is both for you and Eugene and for you, Mara. Eugene, allow me to interrupt. Allow me to interrupt you both...
NNAMDI...and to say, you both seem to be saying that it's either one or the other. Either the police are absolutely blameless or the police are routinely brutal. Could it be a combination of both?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDI would point out that a federal...
O'DONNELLIt is (unintelligible) social media -- social media, unfortunately cast very little light. It's -- it is, unfortunately -- it's almost like people yelling and reinforcing and hijacking...
HOWARDWell, we just...
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDActually it's not hijacking to publish the truth.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDSee that's the problem that you're having. Is that social media is allowing people to actually show what you said, you wanted, which is facts.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDPeople put up pictures, they put up the truth, they put up the reality of what they experience instead of them being forced to live, afraid in the shadows, are speaking only among themselves because no one else can hear them.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDPeople are able to speak out.
NNAMDI...what do you say?
HOWARDI'd say this is an excellent example of where tough conversations do not just occur in social media and people can shout back and forth in person and on the radio too. It is, I think, accurate to say what Kojo did, which is that the truth is somewhere in the middle. We can find examples of disproportionate force used by some police officers around the country. Everyone has probably seen the use of mace or pepper spray on Occupy protestors who are pinned up. That was one of the big things that really popped the New York, that brought that to people's attention. Most people...
O'DONNELLOne picture, as I recall...
O'DONNELL...that was one picture.
HOWARD...and we can also see the use of pepper spray on students, out in California in a University there. And that was not one pictures, in fact, we had people standing all around them. And this is actually where these incidents become quite important. It's an idea called "sousveillance." In the same way that police and other law enforcement entities can use surveillance of these networks. It's something we should talk about as well, the access of messages or private messages. And requests from law enforcement to these companies.
HOWARDMany people taking pictures of the same incident can put a level of transparency and accountability on the actions of those officers. And the one in New York, in question, was actually disciplined afterwards.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDActually it was not. I represent one of the people that was pepper sprayed in that case.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDAnd it's -- what happened, is a group of people, there was also mass false arrested, trapped innocently on the sidewalk, surrounded by police, not allowed to disperse. And Bolognia (sp?) pepper sprayed them. He received about 10 docked vacation pay. And so...
O'DONNELLAnd again, this is the hijacking of million...
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD...so in fact to say that he's (unintelligible) ...
O'DONNELL…this is the hijacking of hundreds of millions of interactions in the United States.
HOWARDCould you let her speak, please?
O'DONNELL... (unintelligible) pictures. We're talking about two pictures.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD(unintelligible) is inaccurate. He did it, he pepper sprayed people, he used the (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIOkay, So Eugene O'Donnell, you and then we go to a break.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD... (unintelligible) assault.
O'DONNELLThis is a hijacking of hundreds of millions of interactions to -- and again, I'm the first person to say, there is absolutely brutality but this is the problem with social media. You have -- you have the creation of iconic pictures, two or three iconic pictures from across the country in a ten-year period and (unintelligible) ...
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDSeven thousand people were arrested in Occupy around the country.
O'DONNELL...hundreds of millions of interactions between the public and the police.
NNAMDIWe gotta take a short break. When we come back, Dionne Waugh, hope you're ready for this because we'll be joined by Dionne Waugh, who is a social media expert for the Richmond Police Department, who'll be joining us by phone. We take your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. We're talking about police on social media. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back, it's a "Tech Tuesday" conversation on fighting crime with hashtags, police on social media. We were talking with Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Alex Howard is a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School and a columnist at Tech Republic. Eugene O'Donnell is a professor of Law and Police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. And now, joining us by phone from Richmond, Va., is Dionne Waugh, social media expert for the Richmond Police Department. Is Dionne or Dionne Waugh?
MS. DIONNE WAUGHIt's the Dionne and thank you for having me.
NNAMDIDionne, thank you very much for joining us. The Richmond Police Department is considered one of the more innovative departments in this country when it comes to adopting new media, using Pinterest to solve homicides and sharing video footage of crimes on Instagram. Can you tell us a little bit more about how these tools help police investigations?
WAUGHWe think the different social media sites have been a huge help to our agency, both from an investigative side but also from a public relations side, as far as, it's helped us build relationships with them, which then lead to tips, which then help us out when there are crimes that need solving. It's also been very beneficial as far as just to get information out when we need the publics help. It's all about relationships, it's about communication, it's about balance. I've been listening to the conversation and it's -- it really is -- it's a balancing act between the community and police departments.
NNAMDIPolice departments have been known for keeping a tight lid on information, Dionne, streamlining all communications through a high ranking member of the force or a public information officer. So what is the place of -- a police agency on social media, a realm where information is often uncensored and difficult to control?
WAUGHAgain, I think, it's a little bit of a balancing act. I mean, we've had situations where citizens have recorded incidents with police officers and the only -- I would argue that some -- those situations don't show the whole story. They show 14 seconds, a minute-14 of a situation. And they don't always give a clear pictures. We're glad to have citizens out there and to share that information with us when situations happen. But it's good that we share information with them and they share information with us. No one person can control anything and that's a good thing.
NNAMDIEugene O'Donnell, what challenges do you think law enforcement agencies might face as they bring their traditional communication models into the digital age?
O'DONNELLI think they're gonna be dragged into this, you know, whether they like it or not because the public expects them to be on top of things. And, you know, it's some -- the monitoring of Twitter, monitoring of Facebook, people that are foolish enough to advertise that they're involved in gangs or criminal activities. How can the police not be involved? But ultimately, in surveilling these sites and gathering information, eventually making cases, I think, it's an ethical minefield, to be honest.
NNAMDIMara, as the NY -- my NYPD case points out, social media has become and an important tool for activists exposing police misconduct, do you think, however, that police could use these same kinds of sites and platforms to build or in some cases rebuild trust with the public?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDI think the issue really becomes one of people being able to, as I said, speak out and show what their experiences are. I mean, the fact is, you had stop and frisk, it really -- what is an epidemic level in New York City. And, yet, even though this was people's daily existence, it didn't have a crescendo call for years until more and more people were able to talk about it and it -- and it -- and it reached a critical mass of exposure. So you can actually have, what I think we would all recognize, as an epidemic mass Civil Rights violation going on. And yet, no action taken.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDSo social media, I mean, you look at Albuquerque, where you've had police killing after police killing after police killing. But when -- when the police themselves were filming, that killing of the homeless man, and then that made it out, you know, into video and people saw it all over the country. And people in Albuquerque, they took action.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDI mean, people are organizing in Albuquerque to change the police procedures -- change the police department to stop police from just conducting these rampant killings. And that's true around the country. People are able to use new media to communicate in ways that they never could. It's revolutionary in terms of organizing and political organizing.
NNAMDIEugene O'Donnell, I know you have to go right about now, any final comments?
O'DONNELLAgain, not to -- I think there's more agreement here than it might sound like. I just think that, we have to look at ourselves, that -- that if you ask people, what kind of laws do you want to repeal? Every year legislatures are adding laws, they're asking the police to do more. The core functions of the police is to get it -- get into people's way, unfortunately.
O'DONNELLAnd I don't see any appetite for rolling that back, stop and frisk was -- was done by a mayor who got a third term. They extended his term to stay for a third term. So these are more complicated issues then just looking viscerally at an uncontextualized picture of a police officer doing what police officers do, which is using force.
NNAMDIEugene O'Donnell is a Professor of Law and Police Studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAlex, I wanted to get back to the myNYPD for just a moment because Eugene O'Donnell characterized the backfiring of the social media effort as the result of an input of a small group of people. Why do you think it backfired?
HOWARDHum, well, I think, like any organization that has a lot of animus towards it in this case, as he mentioned just now, their job is to get in the way of people. Protecting and serving can often move into other areas. And there's really, I think, some consensus that we saw some of the boundaries of public-private space in New York when the Occupy protests. And there's a lot of people who have a really, not great feelings, around NYPD.
HOWARDMany others may feel quite good about them and they actually did show up on that hashtag as well. But there's a gradient. And anytime any organization that has significant negative feeling towards it, shows up, could be around politics, could it be around academia, could be public figures who are a divisive or controversial for some reason. If they show up and there's a organized hashtag around them, people can and will see it as an opportunity to jump on and chat.
HOWARDThere is a opportunity for activism, certainly in that realm to pull attention towards their grievances and concerns. I think if you saw what, say, happened to Goldman Sachs, when they tried to do the same thing. You saw the same kind of outcome which is not perhaps what their corporate communications department wanted when they converged -- or convened at that conversation.
NNAMDIBut Dionne Waugh, he just brought up Goldman Sachs. A lot of companies have taken to social media to build their brand. To what extent that -- to what extent did -- can police really do the same thing?
WAUGHI think, they can absolutely do the same thing as far as, we've done a lot with our Facebook page, for example, of profiling a lot of the good officers, the good civilians and the good deeds that they've done, that the media does -- the traditional media doesn't have the time or the space or the interest in. So we've built that over the past five and a half years. People have gotten to know a lot of members of the department so that when they're out at a community event, they now recognize some of them. And they're like, Oh, you saved that dog from being hit by a car. They know them now.
WAUGHWe've built up this really good brand that, yes, bad things do happen, bad people do sometimes make mistakes or do -- make the wrong actions. But we've built up a lot of goodwill as well within the community and that's a lot of what it is.
NNAMDIHere's Truman in Washington, D.C. Truman, your turn.
TRUMANHow are you doing? I'm actually a police officer in the District of Columbia. I have a lot of thoughts about the overall conversation...
NNAMDIWell, just share one with us.
TRUMANOkay. What I would really ask, for just the members of the general public, is to go on a ride-a-long with your local agency. And the reason I say that is, people, at that point in time, can actually understand why police do a lot of the things that they do. It's a lot of things just to explain why, unfortunately at times, we do have to use force. And, like I say, we are presented with situations where, unfortunately, we don't have a choice.
TRUMANI would love to go through a 25-year career with the (word?) department without ever using force. But unfortunately the individuals who I come in contact with, unfortunately on a daily basis, it presents itself and creates situations where I have to defend myself to go home to my family, you know. But I really, really, would love for more members of the public to just go on a ride-a-long with their local agency, so they actually have an idea (unintelligible) ...
NNAMDIWell, there might be another kind of way of going on a ride-a-long, Truman, because we got an email from PS who says, "The police have a difficult job, obviously social media will highlight abuses. But those are the exceptions. Can the guests comment on the current pilot programs on personal cameras on police officers?" I'll start with you, Mara.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDWell, it's a very interesting issue. Because, as you can see, there's a lot of circumstances where those cameras are, you know, effectively recording police conduct of otherwise wouldn’t be seen. But, there too, there's also the issue of who ultimately controls it. And the police are controlling it. And...
NNAMDIAnd later in the broadcast, very shortly, we'll talk about civilians being prosecuted for recording, but go ahead.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDRight. Right. And the -- and the, you know, so it sort of remains to be seen how that's going to be played out. I mean, the fact is, I think, if you had a bird's eye view camera of police interactions, people would -- people who don't normally interact with the police would have a very different understanding. And I think that becomes a key point in terms of what we've just heard from the officer who called in and from the Richmond Police Department. They're talking about how, they want to have people go on ride-a-longs so they can see what the police, you know, do. Or they want to be able to put up, you know, here's our outstanding member on the Facebook page, so that the community, as they say, you know, recognizes the police department in a favorable light.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDBut what that is ignoring is that people do know what the police do, those are the people who encounter the police day in and day out, those are the communities where they do know who the police are, they do know who the members are, they do know how the police conduct themselves and that unfavorable view is based on personal experience.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDIt's not that there's hostility or animus against the police department in some ephemeral, just, you know, I like a celebrity or I don't like a celebrity way. It's that people are basing their understanding based on true life experience. So what really a lot of people are saying here, is that, they want to talk to the people who don't really have to encounter the police, day in and day out, and try and tell them, everything is great.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDBut the people who are encountering the police, who have a real life story, who know what it is to live in a neighborhood, an area that, frankly, feels like a police state. That feels like daily oppression which is real for many people. That's the experience that then starts to come out when the police open a line of communication that lets people Tweet out what they're, you know, NYPD is.
NNAMDIWell, I'll ask Alex and Dionne the same question, but can personal cameras change that?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDWell, I think, personal cameras on a police officer, it depends on the angle. I mean, that's another major issue with that, that people have talked about.
NNAMDII had to bring a lawyer in on this conversation.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDYour -- You're seeing it from the polices' eyes in that way. And you're not seeing it, which is a very, maybe, a very narrow skewed viewpoint. You may not be able to see what's really happening, what a person is really doing. And, again, then you also have the issue of the control of the evidence. I mean, it is not an uncommon or un-aborational situation...
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD...where there is video of police conduct, that's in the police control that, you know, is not necessarily seeing the light of day in a complete fashion.
HOWARDSo one of the important things that's come up during the conversation is, how profoundly two-way this is. And I think you've really spoken to that, other callers have spoken to that, Richmond police has spoken to that. And you talk about the idea of a brand. Most people who spent time in these networks know that it's not just about what you say about yourself, it's about what other people are saying about you and then what kind of evidence and data and documentary footage they have to back that up.
HOWARDSo there's upset saying that there might be one or two pictures, but in fact, if it's thousands of pictures, then that starts to create evidence. You know, a decade ago, people could take out a camera, could post it on their -- the video on their blog. It was a little bit difficult to do but you could do it, 2004, there wasn't a YouTube yet. But it was possible to put things on the internet. Now, we have smart phones with powerful cameras in them, connected directly to YouTube or to Facebook and social media, to share these things, almost as they're happening in many cases.
HOWARDPeople are live streaming things as they can happen and sharing that feed. And that is a form of transparency, many older institutions aren't comfortable with, including the officers of the cultures that within them. Some of them, I think, are looking at this as an opportunity to work with the public, in public safety situations. Craig Fugate at FEMA has said very publicly that he looks at the public as a resource in these situations so they can give people who are going to protect and serve, to help, to rescue, better understanding. The Red Cross has been getting better at that, too.
HOWARDBut in 2014, we're seeing still just the beginnings of this idea of people having personal computing around them. We're seeing the emergence of things like wearables, right, the Google Glass environment. Some police officers are now starting to wear those. More likely, we'll see many more pinhole with lapel cameras. And in some places, I think that might be optional. In many others, the officers may use it to protect themselves, to record things.
HOWARDIn other countries, where there's bigger corruption issues, like, say, in Russia, dashboard cameras are used by citizens to make sure they record incidents on the other side. And I think where we're going to be in a couple years is people having both sides of the conversation recorded whenever there's an interaction between an official of the state and a citizen. And that's going to create some really interesting editing challenges.
NNAMDIDionne Waugh, personal cameras for on police officers, how does the Richmond Police Department view that?
WAUGHI know that several agencies in Virginia, including ours, have looked at, have studied that because it does bring, you know, challenges of pros and cons in a lot of different ways. So all I can speak to is that I know that they've looked at it because, like we've all said, cameras instantly capturing things, it is now. It's not just the future. It is now. So it's the matter of what's the best way we can monitor what goes on and make sure officers are doing what they're trained to do and make sure they're safe and keep the citizens safe. So it's an ongoing study, I think.
NNAMDIAnd, Truman, the police officer who called, thank you for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation on police on social media. You can still call us, 800-433-8850. Would you rather tweet 911 than dial it? Would you friend your local police precinct on Facebook? How about on sites like Pinterest? How willing would you be to share the information or share information with law enforcement? You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. It's Tech Tuesday. We're talking about police on social media and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Have there been cases when you relied on a police department's Twitter feed for the latest news about an emergency or an investigation? Give us a call. We're talking with Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund.
NNAMDIDionne Waugh is social media expert for the Richmond Police Department. And Alex Howard is a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School. He's also a columnist at Tech Republic. In some states, a person might face penalties for trying to record his or her own arrest. A Massachusetts woman is now being charged with unlawful wiretapping for turning on her smartphone's recording feature during her arrest. What's -- what right should the public have to record and share their experiences with police online? Mara.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDWell, there have been many cases over the last number of years where, with the advent of cellphone videos and photography and recording, the public has been able to capture what's happening in their interactions with the police. And the police have arrested people who are either recording their own interactions or recording police misconduct.
NNAMDIWhat's illegal about that?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDIt's not illegal. And the police have arrested them and often charge them with interfering with police function or, you know, causing a disturbance or disorderly conduct. In Massachusetts, it went up to the First Circuit in the Glik case. And in different -- where it's been judged as a constitutional rights issue and criminal issue, it has been found, over and over again, that the public does in fact have the right to record police function and police conduct.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDBut the fact that the police are so quick and ready to confiscate cameras or to arrest people for recording them as they carry out their duties, I think, says a lot about when the police are otherwise claiming that they wish to have transparency. What they want to have is to be able to have a presentation that is their own carefully crafted, defined presentation as opposed to the, you know, the gritty real world reality of policing.
NNAMDIWhat, Dionne Waugh, do -- what is it that you think makes police -- some police, anyway -- uncomfortable about being recorded? Obviously, there are some situations in which, if you are in the middle of a fight, you don't want the person with whom you're fighting necessarily recording you or you recording them. But what is it that makes the police uncomfortable about that practice in general?
WAUGHWell, I mean, they're trained to, of course, make sure that they're protected as they go into these dangerous situations. So we have several people who actively film officers in the Richmond area. And sometimes, you know, for example, they might run up to an officer. And if you run up to an officer, that's going to raise his guard. You know, he's going to wonder who you are, what you're -- why you're running at him.
WAUGHAnd if you're running at him, carrying something in your hand, his training is going to kick in. So his first goal is he's got to make sure he and partners are safe and protected as the go into these dangerous situations. We give training all the time. We have for many -- the past several years, about groups that film you and how it's completely legal, as long as they're not interfering with the investigation, as long as they, you know, listen to your commands and stay in the space.
WAUGHThey're not -- they don't get too close. They don't interfere. But, you know, we've had several instances of that kind of go well in the Richmond region as far as we've had officers be filmed. They're aware of it. They speak with the person. And they go about their day.
HOWARDSo I have to put the obligatory disclaimer that I'm not a lawyer here, but I do talk to lots of them about these issues. And I've certainly run into this myself personally when I tried to record First Lady Laura Bush, former First Lady, during the National Book Festival a couple of years ago. I had law enforcement come over and tell me not to do it. And I was in a public place. And I said, well, what's the problem? Well, you're interfering with her interview with C-SPAN. And they brought me further back away. You know, I'd refer listeners to dmlp.org. That's Digital Media Law Project.
HOWARDAnd I'd back up. As Mara has said, there's a patchwork of laws. And I think that the courts and legislatures are going to have to be more affirmative in the support of citizens to record public officials going about their duties in public places and to say that that is a First Amendment issue that should be protected very clearly. And right now it really depends upon where you are.
HOWARDYou have to be knowledgeable about the state statutes that cover that, maybe even down to the municipal level or a city council level, because, even though there, I think, is a clear constitutional support for you going out there, there are lots of places where they may say that you're interfering with police activities or otherwise putting them in danger and then take away the device or otherwise disable it.
HOWARDI would argue that people should be carefully watching the arguments at Supreme Court level, too, with respect to Fourth Amendment issues around the seizure or removal of any kind of data from these devices or search of them. We're getting into some areas where -- because the technology is new, the jurisprudence really hasn't caught up to where it should be. But my position continues to be that if someone has committed an act of journalism, then the First Amendment should protect their right to record the public official doing something, unless there's a really clear national security issue not to be doing it.
NNAMDIHere is Ryan in Bel Air, Md. Ryan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RYANI just wanted to kind of bring back point of the checking my camera from the police officers. When we give them the discretion to turn these on and off, I feel like you kind of lose the value of even having the cameras in the first place because if they have that discretion, they can turn it on and off when they see fit. That's either they're doing something illegal or they're doing something that they don't want you to see. How do you really get around this problem of having, you know, what you should and shouldn't record when you're -- when they're on their duty?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDAnd I think that's an excellent point. And that's something that I was getting to earlier, which is when the evidence is purely in the hands of the police, what is the high likelihood that the police are going to be turning over, here's the evidence of my brutalizing someone or false arresting someone? I don't think we're going to see that happen all too often. So that, you know, that becomes an issue. So -- but that also comes up with the dash cam question.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDI mean, if it's on and it's automatically on and they can't control turning it off and on, if you're missing evidence, then you would have a spoliation issue as to whether or not there's been loss or destruction or tampering. But, again, you also only have one angle. And often, even with dash cams, you don't have audio. You can't hear what the police are saying. You know, it -- you're only getting part of the picture. So I think it's still really a question as to whether or not these are going to help in terms of, you know, true exposure and remedying civil liberties and civil rights violation.
NNAMDIDionne Waugh, social media can also compromise police investigations. That's why as Boston police zeroed in on a suspect in the marathon bombing, the department asked journalists not to tweet out information about the manhunt from the police blotter. How do you keep the public up to date and still allow officers to do their job effectively?
WAUGHIt's -- honestly, it's a balancing act. We try and tweet and Facebook and post information with them on a regular basis, so they know that they will get accurate information from us as quickly as we are able to without compromising investigations so that when a crisis happens, they know to go to us.
WAUGHI think most of them also understand that we can't always put out information as quickly as they would like or as -- with all the details as they would like because it would compromise cases. It's just a matter of we have built up, as I said, the brand and the relationship for these years now so that they know what information they can expect from the Richmond Police Department and when they can expect to get it.
NNAMDIAnd, Alex, as we mentioned law enforcement in some cases taking to social media to share real time information about unfolding events, investigations, following the Boston Marathon bombing, city's police department tweeted out information about the suspects as -- and about evidence as it came in. To what extent is that an effective way to keep the public informed if the public does not get in the way of the investigation itself?
HOWARDI would say it's increasingly effective, if for no other reason because of the penetration of these networks into people's daily lives, the amount of time they're spending there, the fact that people are going on there and looking for information if it isn't somewhere else. There's often a fog of war environment in any kind of rapidly emerging news situation. We're seeing one of those up in Baltimore as we speak.
HOWARDAnd if you go into...
NNAMDIWe should mention that what we're talking about in Baltimore is that the ABC affiliate in Baltimore has been apparently crashed into and occupied by an individual. That's what you're picking up on Twitter right now.
HOWARDRight. Exactly. I did a search for truck in Baltimore and quickly found news reports and official reports of what was happening on the ground, so situational awareness. That's something that people who are in these situations want and something that law enforcement wants. They want to know, what's happening, what's safe, where can I go, what should I know right now? And if that gives people a five minute or 10 minute edge, then there's a really important dynamic there.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDYou know, I just want to say one thing though because I think that that whole perspective -- and I understand what you're trying to communicate here. But I think we have to step back and -- the language that you're using, fog of war, and people want to know what's safe and where to go, it's -- the issue comes down to the police sort of generating and continuing and others filling in this view of society as if we're constantly in a state of siege.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDAnd we are not, as a society, constantly in a state of siege. But when you look at, like, the Boston situation which is a whole different conversation, you know, there's a lot of people looking at what happened in Boston and really having community conversations up there over whether or not that was really right, to be telling the entire town, you know, shelter in place, you're in a state of siege, having people in lockdown, SWAT teams, you know, parading through neighborhoods, a huge paramilitary offensive.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDAnd so when we start to take for granted, in our daily lives and society and policing, this concept, fog of war, and we're waiting for the police to tweet us alerts as to how to be safe, we're really shifting our mindsets in terms of how we are living as a people and how we are living in society. And I believe it ratchets up and ends up justifying a kind of a paramilitary policing that we see increasingly over the last several decades in the United States that is very dangerous and has caused great harm to our society.
NNAMDIWell, look, I'm part of a broadcast media that often is accused of if it bleeds, it leads, and so we keep people in a constant state of mind that our security is threatened, even if violent crime happens to be dropping. But shouldn't one make a distinction between an incident like the Boston Marathon bombing in particular and the coverage of crime on a day-to-day basis?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDYes. And I'm not conflating the two. I'm not saying that the Boston bombing was not a terrifying event. I'm talking about what happened in terms of, from the Justice Department, to the federal police, to the local police, this creation of a very terrifying event. But actually many people in Boston or in the communities are having this conversation now about, what really happened?
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDWhat was necessary? What wasn't necessary in terms of telling an entire population that they should be in place, that they were in a state of siege? And it was really creating and preparing the population to sort of accept that kind of way of living. And that as society is something that I think that we have to question.
NNAMDIWell, I'm sure that in that situation, some people thought that possibility at that time existed. Now we know it wasn't true. But police officers can now monitor online activity for security threats at special events or to learn more about disturbances in nearby areas. What kinds of guidelines should the police be following when gathering information from users' social media feeds, Alex?
HOWARDWell, I think they should actually be -- not dissimilar to journalists for looking to protect sources. So if you see someone say something, but you don't want to call attention to them, if you can find some other way to contact them that's out of the public eye, you may be able to protect them more effectively to ask them to follow us. You can direct message them and move them to a different communication medium to be thoughtful about not exposing them to a much larger audience, which might create a different kind of public safety hazard or personal safety hazard for them.
HOWARDI will say this about whether it's effective or not. And I see the point about the militarization of the police. I think Radley Balko has written very thoughtfully about that. And it is a significant issue. It's also true that the public does want to be heard. I wouldn't suggest tweeting police officers as opposed to calling 911. But if the cell towers are down and there's no other way to communicate with people, social media is an effective second option.
HOWARDAnd when people do ask for help, Red Cross research found in 2010 that three-quarters of them expect to be heard within an hour. So I don't think we concede the space to say that it's just a place for promotion or just a place for anything else. People really do want to be helped here. And if we can move the language maybe a little bit towards one that's more cooperative, more focused on public safety, we can maybe say that there are people involved there who do want the best of someone involved.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDWell, you can look at Hurricane Sandy in New York, and everyone knew people needed help. And the government and the police were not getting there to help them. And they didn't need to tweet or anything else. And yet they weren't getting there to help. But I need to quickly address that other issue that you raised about the...
NNAMDIMake it quick. We only have 30 seconds.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARD...about the police trolling through social media. At the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, we have uncovered thousands of documents where the police are going through social media and going through people's First Amendment protected associations, political activities, organizing. That's a huge danger, and I think they need to be prohibited from that activity.
NNAMDIMm. And I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Mara Verheyden-Hilliard is executive director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund. Thank you for joining us.
VERHEYDEN-HILLIARDThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlex Howard is a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School. He's also a columnist at Tech Republic. Alex, thank you for joining us.
HOWARDIt's a pleasure to join you.
NNAMDIAnd Dionne Waugh is a social media expert for the Richmond Police Department. Dionne Waugh, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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