FOX6 news recently did a story calling attention to the public’s current fixation with personally videotaping encounters with police during traffic stops. With the proliferation of electronic handheld devices, some citizens have elected to use that videotaping capability as a way to document the actions of police officers and leverage that footage in case any inconsistencies arise in their police report. Many of these videos have been uploaded to YouTube and are subjected to large amounts of criticism and debate. Mixed feelings aside, the action is perfectly legal in Wisconsin. Yet the police have been sadly unresponsive and aggressive towards this new, and seemingly invasive trend in traffic stops.
Most complaints from the police concerning this new phenomenon arrive by way of the camera becoming an impediment to their ability to properly do their job. There are also voices being raised over the potential for handheld recording devices to act as concealment for firearms and other harmful objects that could be used against officers during traffic stops. And of course there’s the slightly less publicized grumble that the presence of an extra camera forfeits their ability to stray from standard traffic stop protocol. Legitimate as those concerns may be, they speak to the fact that in dealing with the sometimes-gray area between legal and illegal when it comes to video devices in these situations, the distinction still falls upon the better judgment of the police officer and does not require the law to dictate the action itself be absolutely illegal in all instances.
The burgeoning of smart phones and videotaping capabilities has irrevocably altered the way we interact with those around us. Furthermore, the relocation of a large part of our lives to the internet, even the ones we like to think of as being private, is in full swing and shows no signs of stopping. The police should embrace this progression, and view the home-video traffic stop movement as a great opportunity to consistently and objectively gauge the quality of their work, as well as their public image. Similarly, the public, while being aware that turning the lens towards a police officer may eliminate the chance of driving home with a warning, ought to take the opportunity to not only keep the behavior of the police during traffic stops in check, but also their own. A win-win scenario.
Police have themselves already been videotaping and recording traffic stops for some time. If camera-wielding citizens wish to do the same, their choice is not only encouraged by Wisconsin state law, but by the fact that the presence of an additional, unbiased perspective during traffic stops will spark the improvement of conduct in both the police and the public.