After a murder-suicide in Edinburgh, while some people got out phones to call 911, others pulled them out to start taking photos and videos as police arrived.
As officers were trying to find out what happened, they also had to direct people away from the crime scene in the middle of an intersection, a few of who were capturing the aftermath on their cellphones, Edinburgh Police Chief Dave Mann said.
Since just about everyone has a cellphone capable of snapping pictures or recording video, police are no strangers to being captured on film when making traffic stops or making an arrest out in public.
People are allowed to record whatever they want as long as they’re not interfering with a police investigation, local police said. The possibility of being recorded at any time is another reminder to officers to always act professional and courteous in any situation.
In August, when a man shot his ex-wife then killed himself in the middle of an Edinburgh town intersection, nearby residents were out taking photos or shooting videos of the intersection and police arriving to post to social media or send to friends and family.
While police immediately went to check on the two people, they also had to start moving people away from the bodies and kindly ask them to not take photos of the victims as a sign of respect to the two people who had just died, Mann said.
“You can go to folks and say ‘Do you really need to film this?’ and ask them as a matter of decency,” he said.
Officers can’t force a person to turn off a cellphone or camera as long as they’re following orders at a crime scene, Sheriff Doug Cox said. If a person refuses to back up or is disrupting officers, then they could be arrested for interfering with an investigation, he said.
Police officers are supposed to be calm, courteous and professional to people even when that person might be yelling at them after being arrested or uncooperative during an investigation, Greenwood Police Chief John Laut said.
Administrators tell their officers to assume they’re always being recorded. If they’re caught on video doing something they wouldn’t want their supervisor to see, that video also could be posted to the Internet for the world to see, Laut said.
Acting professionally is especially important since a person taking a video on their phone could edit or splice it to cut out parts and upload them to the Internet, Mann said. One snarky or rude comment out of a 20-minute conversation could be the only part of a video that ends up online, he said.
An officer in Franklin did get in trouble years ago when he was recorded without knowing it after talking to a teen who was on the phone with his mother, Lt. Kerry Atwood said. The teen put down his phone without hanging up and his mother overheard the conversation between him and the officer, who talked to him rudely. She later complained to the department about how the officer was acting, Atwood said.
If police are being recorded often, they’re usually not aware of it. Local officials said they rarely hear of someone recording officers on a cellphone during a traffic stop or come face-to-face with a camera when going to a call at a local bar.
“We’ve not had a lot of incidents where it’s been brought to our attention. I’m sure it’s happening. But if somebody sees a policeman doing something wrong, they’re going to pull out their camera and snap a photo,” Atwood said.