The Evolving Role of Policing in a "Viral Video" Society

It is so easy for people to question the actions of a police officer. I am at the top of the list of those who believe the conduct of our profession should be held to the highest standards and I welcome the scrutiny. But, in the age of emerging technologies such as social media and the growing presence of what we refer to as “citizen journalists” we know that perception is reality. It has changed the dynamics not of how we do our jobs, but the tools we are forced to use to add to our line of defense.

I point to the recent trend of “viral videos” on social media where people are looking for opportunities to capture the activity of law enforcement officers. In many cases they are seeking to capture officers in a negative or hostile situation.

Let me first say that after due process, if an officer is found to be out of line or used excessive force or abused the power of the position, there will be zero tolerance for such behavior. If it happens on my watch the officer will be terminated along with his ability to ever wear the badge again. Contrary to the vocal minority, the facts indicate this happens in only a small percentage of cases nationwide.

Fortunately within the Cocoa Police Department we have not had any complaints involving abuse of power or excessive use of force since I became chief in 2013. While there have been a handful of complaints regarding “aggressive” officers, after due process, which is a fair and unbiased review of all the facts, evidence and circumstances, the complaints are typically deemed unfounded.

A big part of that is due to our implementation of the use of body cameras. The Cocoa Police Department is the first agency in Brevard County to equip its patrol division, from sergeants through patrol officers with the cameras. Our contract with Taser International began in 2013 with a yearlong pilot program using 6 cameras. In January 2014 we deployed another 42 cameras and I can tell you they have become a vital tool not only for evidence gathering in criminal cases, but in capturing every citizen encounter with the officer.

This technology coupled with regular officer training and our focused efforts on community policing have put us in new arena where we are becoming a model agency around the world for effective solutions. I’m proud to say our operational model is being recognized by media outlets from as far away as South Korea. We recently hosted a television crew from the Korean Broadcasting System. The New York City based crew spent half a day with us learning about our programs including our community relations unit, police athletic league, neighborhood watch, drop-a-dime, body cameras and our overall community policing philosophy. I’m honored that our efforts are being recognized but more importantly I remain committed to our community first philosophy in our mission to protect and serve.