Does Citizen Journalism Foster or Impede Law Enforcement?

The tendency for citizens to record everything on their smartphones can lead to conflicts between police and the people they are sworn to protect and serve.

by / November 5, 2012

Back in August, a shooting in Times Square made headlines: NYPD approached a 51-year-old man who was reportedly smoking marijuana in public, and after being approached, the man brandished a kitchen knife with a six-inch blade. After police followed the man for seven blocks, ordering him to drop the knife, they fatally shot him. And the issue has resurfaced months later, given that many photos and videos of the incident taken by bystanders can be found online.

As reports, the tendency to record everything can "lead to sticky conflicts between police and the people they are sworn to protect and serve." And things become further complicated by the viral speed and ease of technology.

The large amount of mobile phone video, from people from as far as Brazil, is sparking controversy over what sort of laws govern these kinds of citizen-journalist actions and how they foster or impede law enforcement’s efforts to protect public safety, according to, which notes that the NYPD will investigate the incident and may use the video footage as evidence since it's permissible under New York law. 

Though laws vary by state, most say it is okay to record an on-duty officer as long as it doesn’t physically interfere with the officer. And last May, the U.S. Department of Justice reprimanded the Baltimore Police Department for insufficiently supporting citizens’ right to record officers on duty. The DoJ wrote, “policies should affirmatively set forth the contours of individuals’ First Amendment right to observe and record police officers engaged in the public discharge of their duties.”

While the DoJ’s 11-page letter was directed to the Baltimore Police Department, it noted its application is a nationwide goal.


Photo courtesy of Shutterstock: 1000 Words /