A look into how the ACLU and Seattle Police Department are utilizing video streaming and sharing platforms in the fight against abusive police.

As integral social media has been to calling attention to recent instances of police brutality and abuse of power, it only makes sense that social media could play an equally important role in the solution to the ongoing problem. Following the national issues that have arisen from the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released a new app to make the process of recording and reporting police misconduct easier. It’s called Mobile Justice – California, and it is tailored to laws and outlets pertaining to Californian citizens, though previous variants have been developed and released in Missouri, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey and Oregon. It is unreported if and when the ACLU is planning to cover the remaining states, but any American citizen can take take advantage of many of the app’s features, regardless of location. Among these features are the ability to categorize and submit video of police harassment and abuse to the ACLU anonymously or with contact information attached. Another feature is called the Witness function, which alerts users of incidents being recorded near them, allowing for potential witnesses to appear on the scene in case of an eventual trial.

On the opposite side of the issue, the Seattle Police Department has made its own efforts to rebuild public trust with the power of social media, In February, the police force created its own Youtube channel. Under the username SPD BodyWornVideo, the SPD has begun uploading all footage collected from its officer’s body cameras in order to increase transparency over the force’s actions.

Critics argue that the channel’s videos are too heavily edited to be of any use. Supposedly for the sake of civilians, all of the channel’s videos have been muted. Earlier videos were entirely blurred, but more recent posts have been edited beyond the point of intelligibility, to the point where videos look more like drawings than films. Police spokesman Drew Fowler defended the redaction process, citing the privacy of citizens, “who might be scooped up, swept up, onto the video just by being in the vicinity.” Business Insider also reports that the Seattle Police Department hopes to share its redaction tool with other departments across the country in the near future, as it allows for videos to be released sooner than ever before.

Screen shot taken of SPD BodyWornVideo's Youtube Channel

Screen shot taken of SPD BodyWornVideo’s Youtube Channel

Few outside of a police force would call the sharing of these bodycam videos a bad thing, but the prospect of all police bodycam footage across America being released in a continuous stream does not come without its own problems. Flooding these channels with uneventful, over-edited, or otherwise meaningless content would not so much prove the innocence of any particular police department as it would instead drown out footage of questionable police behavior. This same issue plagues the ACLU’s Mobile Justice apps. Unless a broad network of officials is constantly monitoring each new video submission, videos of actual abusive police could be very easily buried under recordings of non-offending police behavior and even useless video submissions from trolls.

Of course, both the ACLU and the SPD’s actions constitute steps in the right direction. The more the public can get involved in holding police accountable for their actions, the easier it will be to reform corrupt qualities of police in the United States. There is no doubt that social media is a necessary tool for the public in the struggle against police corruption, and certainly projects like these mark the beginning of a long process toward solving the problem.

Featured image courtesy of Flickr user CPSU/CSA


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