The future of law enforcement is online and on-the-line as citizen video devices expose U.S. communities to significant liability. Cameras are everywhere and police officer conduct is on display, creating more than just a public relations problem (see CNN’s recap of the Michael Brown story and get your calculator out to add up the costs). Literally billions of dollars are at risk for taxpayers, businesses and governments. Lawsuits, riots and paying for associated costs are real risks to U.S. communities from Milwaukee to Miami.  

Body cameras proposed to protect citizens—ironically—may also provide police public relations and legal protection too. Individual mobile devices and the ease of editing citizen videos present potential peril for police officers. Perception is formed in an instant with viral video snippets. (See how Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn is portrayed by media differently with Gawker on the left and Glenn Beck’s Blaze on the right and hundreds of comments on Reddit when he shows heated, emotional response to crime in Milwaukee.) Without a counter to a video, police run the risk of being portrayed inaccurately. The impact of police perception, as we’ve seen in New York City, Ferguson, Missouri, Chicago and many other cities impacts far more than the officers in the lens.

At the very least, body cameras placed on police officers will allow video to tell their side of the story, rather than depend on by-standers video. By-standers may have captured only one aspect of a particular engagement. Circumstances leading up to a particular action might add perspective that shifts perception. Perceptions by various stakeholders, activists and government agencies at the local, state and federal level play a significant role in whether those stakeholders take action.

Take for example Eric Garner’s choke hold, which was captured on video and Michael Brown’s shooting which was not. The unified outrage by media outlets across the political spectrum only occurred in the case of Eric Garner. The video made all the difference. And, it likely will make all the difference in how a wide variety of stakeholders are impacted going forward. Stay tuned.

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