By Mark Riggs, Lieutenant, Fremont, California, Police Department
hy should law enforcement officials care about video blogging? Ponder this scenario: Imagine that an agency was involved in a critical incident where an officer used force that was captured on video by onlookers. This video was then uploaded to a user-generated hosting site with the site users’ perspectives of the incident. In just days, more than two million people have viewed the video and thousands have begun to leave comments regarding the use of force by the officer. Without any input from the department, the viewers form opinions regarding professionalism and appropriateness. These opinions can either improve the agency’s reputation among the community or start a public relations nightmare. Still need more proof? Let’s take a look at a real-life scenario.
A man and his pregnant wife were stopped by a Utah State Trooper for speeding. The male driver got out of his vehicle and verbally argued with the officer about where the speed limit sign was located. During the enforcement stop, the officer used his electronic control device on the driver. The officer ordered the pregnant wife back in the car. After the incident, the driver received from police a copy of the officer’s in-car camera video and posted it on the Internet hosting site YouTube.1 The driver posted the entire video and asked this question of the viewers: “Is this how you want your police to act?” The majority was outraged, and viewers posted comments about their displeasure with the police action. As of February 1, 2008, more than 1.5 million people had viewed the video. As of June 22, 2012, there were 2,405,474 people viewed this video, available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMaMYL_shxc. The driver’s efforts to effect change through the use of this video blog had a major impact on the Utah State Police. Since the video blog was posted, the state police have settled a civil suit and engaged in a public relations effort to rebuild their public reputation and trust in their department.
The Utah State Police conducted a press conference shortly after the internal investigation of the incident to address the overwhelming public outcry. During the press conference, Utah Public Safety Commissioner Scott Duncan said, “The video of that incident made its way around the Internet and got the attention of people around the world. Some were infuriated; others supported the trooper. We are worried about public confidence, and that maybe the confidence with the highway patrol with the department of public safety and law enforcement in general was damaged here, and so we hope to restore that confidence.”2 Duncan went on to say the trooper was cleared for the use of the electronic control device; however, Duncan did admit there was a lack of communication on the part of the trooper.
Utah State Police is not the only law enforcement agency to have videos of officer actions posted on the Internet and seen by millions. Many sites like YouTube regularly host videos, with one point of view that is often not that of law enforcement, of officers using force. This communication tool needs to have law enforcement’s point of view. Video blogging is changing the face of policing and how law enforcement agencies communicate with communities.
Trend for More Mobile Technology Connected to the Internet
Internet communication has become commonplace in today’s society. Emailing and text messaging are providing people with the opportunity to communicate globally. Text and video blogging have become popular ways to express opinions and provide points of view. According to a report by the Pew Institute, “Blogs, or online journals, are a way for Internet users to express themselves creatively or to document their experiences. About one in ten Internet users contribute to a blog; one in three Internet users read blogs.”3 Consumers now are using blogging sites to review restaurants, travel sites, and other businesses to make sure they themselves and others are informed consumers.
New technology and hardware have made Internet communication easier and more mobile than ever before. The public is demanding quick information and immediate answers to questions. Mobile, handheld device manufacturers have started to target those needs. After charting the habits of more than 10,000 adults for six months after the iPhone’s U.S. launch, the measurement firm M:Metrics concluded that nearly 85 percent of iPhone purchasers regularly use their handheld devices to access news and other content on the web.4 As this usage increases, the actions of law enforcement will undoubtedly be one of the sources of the daily news in this format.
Video is quickly becoming the most popular medium in the world. No other one captures the fascination of the viewer more than video. James McQuivey, PhD, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, published the study How Video Will Take over the World.5 In this study, McQuivey discusses the trends that indicate video will evolve into an even more powerful medium that he calls “OmniVideo.” He asserts that “OmniVideo includes today’s TV content experiences and devices but goes far beyond these, creating new content, distribution, and device possibilities, all of which feed the human need to consume video experiences.” McQuivey believes video media and the ability for the user to access video content with new mobile devices will dramatically increase: “OmniVideo is about to explode, driving up total viewing time from four hours per day to five hours by 2013, increasing you and your competitors’ marketing potential.”6 Although this research was focused mainly on business opportunities, there are many lessons for law enforcement agencies to learn from this as well. The main lesson is to be aware of the new advances in technology and to take advantage of them.
Handheld devices are becoming more popular because of technological advances and the ease of connectivity to the Internet. Today’s smartphone has taken us to a new dimension by allowing users to connect to the Internet and perform functions that historically were accomplished on a desktop computer. These handheld devices have hardware options that allow the user to capture digital images, video, and audio files that are easily transferred to the Internet for viewing by all. YouTube is easy to use and posting digital media for display is fast. Digital video and still cameras available for purchase in today’s marketplace are equipped to upload video directly for display on YouTube.
President Obama currently uses and plan to continue using the Internet as a major communications tool, according to White House aides cited in the Washington Post: “As part of the presidential transition, Obama officials are looking to add a significant new media component to the White House communications operation. The campaign employed 95 people in its Internet operations, building a user-friendly website that served as a platform for grassroots activities, distributed statements, policy positions, and footage of Obama events.”7 The president uses technology tools such as YouTube and text messaging to communicate directly with the people, bypassing the media entirely to disseminate his message. Communicating the raw data is intended to minimize misunderstandings and allow members of the citizenry to make up their own minds regarding the president’s policies and actions.
In much the same way, law enforcement agencies have the same opportunity to use the Internet to communicate directly with their communities. This may have the greatest utility in times where the police want to speak directly to the public—and quickly—to quell rumors or false accusations. The resultant increase in trust can be the capital from which law enforcement executives can make changes, implement policies, and manage future crises.
Implications on Policing
Using the Internet to communicate with the public in the form of video addresses, accepting video blogs, and shaping communications to address the new trend in mobile devices have changed the norm of communications between the police and the communities they serve. After losing two deputies in fatal collisions in 2009 Sheriff Gillespie of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department posted a video on You-Tube updating the public on the condition of Officer David W. Nesheiwat and the ongoing investigation into the traffic accident which injured him, and killed his partner, Officer Milburn Beitel. To date, the video has had 960 views on YouTube.8
Traditionally, local law enforcement communicates with the public in person, on the phone, through news media statements, and through email. With video blogging, law enforcement has an additional tool for video addresses, question-and-answer sessions, and video press releases. The Internet is being used by more people accessing news and current events. Eric Sinrod published an article stating, “We live in the information age, and plainly people can obtain their news from a variety of sources, with the Internet growing in popularity for national and international news. . . . In addition, people under the age of 30 tend to rely on the Internet more than older age groups. Indeed, 59 percent of the under-30 set reports that the use of the Internet as a main news source, equal to reliance on television for the news.”9
It is imperative for law enforcement to join in on this communication opportunity to speak directly to citizens. Bo Bennett, author of Year to Success, explores the issue regarding people’s perception: “Our reality is based on our perceptions. We base our perceptions on a number of factors such as the information we take in, our experiences, our opinions, our feelings and our emotions.” 10 Bennett also said video blogging could be the communication tool to provide citizens with facts needed to make educated decisions by the public regarding police actions or policies. This will happen only when law enforcement embraces this new communication tool.
Case Study: Bakersfield, California, Police Department
Video blogging already has made inroads in our profession. The Bakersfield, California, Police Department uses Internet-based video to communicate with their public. BPD Insider is a series of videos constructed in the field with Bakersfield police employees fielding questions and providing information on services and current events.11 The 15-minute webcasts are available on the police department website, on YouTube, and on iTunes. New episodes are posted on the website every month and are stored for future viewing by citizens. Former Bakersfield Police Chief Bill Rector also participated in the BPD Insider with an “Ask the Chief” segment. According to Deputy Chief Lyle Martin, the program is a great success. He noted this new way of communicating over the Internet through video blogging has improved community relations. He said the positive feedback for the flow of information to the public is evident in the blogs from the citizens, professional organizations, and personal contacts. Receiving feedback from the citizens helps the police department provide better services to the public. The Bakersfield Police Department is one of the leaders in communicating with the public through the use of Internet communications and video blogging.
Other large departments have added video messages and blogging capabilities to their websites to increase communications with the public.
- The Los Angeles, California, Police Department (LAPD) posts video messages from the chief that can be viewed on the agency website. The LAPD also uses video clips showing short segments of Inside LAPD to provide citizens with an inside look at the challenges of being a police officer in Los Angeles. Further, the department has an LAPDTV section at http://www.lapdonline.org/lapd_tv, under which Chiefs Message, Inside the LAPD, Solve a Crime, and Newsroom can be found.
- The Sacramento, California, Police Department (SPD) uses Facebook and a blogging platform SacPD Blog, which allows citizens to ask officers questions. Further, the SPD formerly used short video segments called City Beat to highlight police actions in their city (now accessible under the SPD’s “History” link). There are multiple other ways social media and related technology are being used by the SPD, including through presences on Facebook and Twitter.
Law enforcement must be prepared for all of the challenges and impacts this line of communication has brought. There will be segments of the population that will never use video blogging. There is a segment of the population that use this forum to further its propaganda of the distrust of the police. There is also a segment of the population that thrives as individuals who are supportive of law enforcement. The main issue for law enforcement is to get the information out to the public and to answer questions in a timely manner. There also are challenges for law enforcement to harness this technology in a way that captures the citizens’ inquiries, allows for varying points of view, and uses the information gained to better serve the community.
Over time, the agencies that do not video blog or reach out to their communities via the Internet will become increasingly isolated from the individuals they serve. Record numbers of people are now visiting blogs, proving that blog visitation is now part of mainstream online behavior for many Internet users. The Huffington Post Blog has an estimated 54 million visitors a month. The TMZ.com blog has 19 million monthly visitors. Mashable has 10 million. The Daily Beast has more than 5 million. Further, WordPress.com claims over 342 million people view more than 2.5 billion pages each month.12 This trend indicates even more acceptance of video blogging from the younger generations in the future. Law enforcement will have more acceptance of using video blogs from the younger generations than older generations.
Next Steps for Law Enforcement
Law enforcement must take the appropriate steps to make video blogging with law enforcement officials desirable for all citizens to utilize. Law enforcement will need to identify additional or existing departmental personnel to be dedicated to this new technology. The idea of producing department head video addresses and posting them to the web is time consuming and personnel intensive. Dedicated personnel will be needed for video editing, monitoring question-and-answer video blogs from the public, and managing the website to facilitate this communication tool. Police agencies already manage a high volume of communication on the phone, in person, and through email today. If local law enforcement is not prepared for this increase and questions are not answered, citizens could stop utilizing this communication tool.
The departmental website must be reconstructed to facilitate this new line of communication. The site must be built for ease of use for all segments of the community to access and provide feedback. It should include a place for video addresses and press releases that are available for viewing at any time. The site should include easy-to-use software for citizens to upload their video blog in the form of a question or statement. The question-and-answer video files should be revisited regularly, and the press officer must provide timely feedback. Another component should be a weekly address by the chief that discusses any recent major events or policy changes. Most of these changes to the departmental website can be done with minimal costs for the return.
An expert panel was convened to discuss this topic.13 The panel identified trends in the emerging landscape that will be of assistance to an agency seeking to enter or enhance their presence in the Internet. The panel’s recommendations can be used as a road map to facilitate that process
First, law enforcement agencies must be willing to change their culture to embrace new communication technology and be prepared to utilize it to their advantage. Law enforcement has embraced technology in the past by utilizing in-car video, computer-aided dispatch, in-car computers, email, and websites, just to name a few. It also must be willing to embrace video blogging. Law enforcement should monitor this new technology and communication tool to see where it can be used effectively to better serve the community. Without law enforcement’s input, the public is left to interpret complex issues regarding policies and procedures and the use of force on their own.
For example, on March 7, 2009, The Star in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, published the article, “Police Brutality, the YouTube Hit.” The author notes that “In the YouTube era, a surfeit of police brutality videos instantly accessible online; a huge number of beatings; and occasional, sensational shootings have cast a growing shadow over police behavior everywhere.” Through the article, Toronto attorney Peter Biro recommends that all officers record every interaction with civilians: “Ultimately, (recording all police activity) protects them as much as it exposes them. When we say exposure, what we're really talking about is transparency . . . If we’re truly committed to the rule of law, what are we afraid of here?”14 If YouTube is the main site where citizens are forming their perceptions of law enforcement, it is not a stretch to believe there could be a negative bias toward police without law enforcement’s contribution.
Second, law enforcement should search video blogging sites on a regular basis to see how their departments are being portrayed. The videos should be reviewed to see if there is a consistent theme or issue that needs to be addressed throughout the community. Police agencies do not have to respond to each individual’s negative video blog, although officials do need to know what issues are being discussed so they can formulate a response when necessary.
Third, law enforcement agencies might feel the need to enter into video blogging and communicating with the public. This is a positive step. But once this happens, they must be prepared to train employees, purchase equipment, and assign the appropriate number of employees to this function. The overall cost of the resources needed for this program is minimal, though, as compared to the positive impact video blogging will have with the community.
Finally, law enforcement agencies must embrace this new communication tool and the way information flows back and forth with the community. There must be a swift response to questions, and the information should be direct and appropriate. Guidelines must be established on proper responses and on who is responsible for that body of work. Law enforcement agencies need the public’s assistance to do their jobs effectively. A CNN article addresses this issue: “‘We think the police department has an obligation to get information out to the community through whatever means or mechanisms we have at our disposal,’ said Lakeland Police Assistant Chief Bill LePere. ‘Traditional media releases, expecting the local print media to pick it up and run it in the newspaper tomorrow, is 24 hours too late.’”15
The traditional ways of communicating with the public are no longer good enough to meet the needs of the community. Law enforcement officials in these examples are finding communication on the Internet to be not only speedy but also a convenient way to distribute press releases, Amber Alerts, road closures, suspect descriptions, and much more.
The future will determine the popularity of video blogging and how it will affect the reputation of local law enforcement. By understanding current trends and events and consistently scanning the environment, law enforcement officials will have the information they need to improve communication with the public and shape their own reputations. Bakersfield, Los Angeles, and departments in other cities have used this tool effectively to inform their citizens about current events and department activities. Most police agencies are already using some sort of short videos to give viewers insight into the department. It would not take much to move toward utilizing video blogging to enhance the law enforcement’s relationship with the public.
Law enforcement must not wait or be reactive regarding this issue. The research has shown the current trends and popularity of video blogging. If the public is using this communication tool absent law enforcement interaction, the conversation will be one sided and skewed. Law enforcement must prepare for this phenomenon to occur and respond appropriately for the long-term goal of a better-informed public. ♦
1“Utah Highway Patrol Camera Shows Jared Massey Being Taser[sic],” YouTube video, November 22, 2007, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NH_qVJfaYZA (accessed June 8, 2012).
2Gene Kennedy and Tonya Papainikolas, “UHP Probe Clears Trooper in Taser Incident,” KSL.com, November 30, 2007, http://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=2245753 (accessed June 8, 2012).
3“Blogs,” Research on Blogs, Pew Internet & American Life Project, http://pewinternet.org/topics/Blogs.aspx?typeFilter=5 (accessed June 8, 2012).
4Bryan Gardiner, “Survey Confirms iPhone Users Are Hard-CoreInternet Junkies,” Wired, March 8, 2008, http://www.wired.com/business/2008/03/survey-confirms/ (accessed June 8, 2012).
5James L. McQuivey, How Video Will Take Over the World (Forrester Research Inc., 2008).
7Sarah Lai Stirland, “Web Will Be a Major Communications Tool under Obama Presidency,” Wired, November 10, 2008, http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2008/11/web-will-be-a-m/ (accessed June 8, 2012).
8Douglas C. Gillespsie, Sheriff Gillespie Addresses Media Concerning October 7th Officer Involved Fatal Traffic Accident, 7 min., 24 sec, from YouTube (October 20, 2009),http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-2Yappnd-g (accessed June 11, 2012).
9Eric Sinrod, “This Just In: More People Getting Their News from the Internet than from Newspapers,” FindLaw, March 26, 2008, http://technology.findlaw.com/networking-and-storage/this-just-in-more-people-getting-their-news-from-the-internet.html (accessed June 8, 2012).
10Bo Bennett, Year To Success (Sudbury, Mass.: Archieboy Holdings,2004).
11BPD Insider, http://www.bpdinsider.us (accessed June 8, 2012).
12“Top 15 Most Popular Blogs,” June 2012, eBizMBA, http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/blogs (accessed June 11, 2012); and en.wordpress.com/stats (accessed June 25, 2012).
13Mark Riggs, Nominal Group Technique at the Fremont Police Department, April 19, 2008.
14Murray Whyte, “Police Brutality, the YouTube Hit,” The Star, March 7,2009, http://www.thestar.com/news/article/598176--police-brutality-the-youtube-hit (accessed June 8, 2012).
15Lisa Respers France, “Police Departments Keeping Public Informed on Twitter,” CNN Tech, March 13, 2009, http://articles.cnn.com/2009-03-13/tech/police.social.networking_1_twitter-and-facebook-twitter-user-departments?_s=PM:TECH (accessed June 8, 2012).
Please cite as:
Mark Riggs, "How Video Blogging Will Define Your Agency: Is Your Department Ready?" The Police Chief 79 (August 2012): 84–87.