Officer Safety: The Impact of Live Streaming Video

There have been significant advances in cellular telephone technologies in recent years. Smartphones have been become a mainstay for cell phone users. Smartphones have allowed people across the world a level of connectedness never seen before. There will be an estimated 196 million smartphone users in the U.S. by the year 2016. Smartphone users have the benefit and convenience of thousands of available software applications. Applications of particular concern to police officers are live streaming video applications.

The need to record and upload video content for viewing is obsolete. Live streaming video applications allow smartphone users to stream video and audio content to social media sites in live, in real time. There are several options available for live streaming (BigVEncoder, Broadcast Me, NanoStream, Broadcaster, Wirecast Cam, Periscope, Meerkat).  For law enforcement, the recent launch of Periscope and Meerkat have created challenges. Every smartphone user has the potential to be an amateur reporter with high quality video and audio. To put it in more simple terms, every smartphone user has a “body camera” of his/her own.

When officers are dispatched to a crime scene or assistance call, their procedures can now be recorded and streamed live. While civilians have always had the ability to ‘test’ response times to calls for service, live streaming video allows for the broadcasting of how an officer arrives on the scene, exits his/her vehicle and begins the preliminary investigation. Live stream video can also provide a mechanism to broadcast the interactions between law enforcement officers and civilians. Live streaming video can undermine public trust in police agencies. In a day and age where the use of body cameras is under serious consideration by law enforcement agencies, live stream video is a virtual body camera taken from the perspective of the civilian. Live streaming video can provide value to exonerate law enforcement officers from complaints but also share scenarios that contain split second decision making by an officer.

Live streaming video can compromise officer safety by revealing law enforcement tactics. Recently, Periscope was used to stream a barricaded hostage situation. Although the civilian was appropriately outside the perimeter of the incident, the broadcast began before many of the law enforcement resources and assets were present. Real-time response of officers and the command vehicles were shown as they approached the scene. SWAT operators with specific equipment were shown gearing up. The broadcast provided a unique glimpse into the scenario for civilians but potentially endangered responding officers and the hostages because the suspects could have been watching the broadcast. In many jurisdictions, SWAT is a collateral duty assignment with operators potentially holding undercover positions. Broadcasting these officers’ faces with live streaming video can compromise their safety.

The fast rise of smartphone use, live streaming video applications and the ability to broadcast sensitive law enforcement response procedures and tactics provide real world challenges for officer safety. Law enforcement agencies are encouraged to educate their personnel about the changing landscape of live streaming video and social media. Polices and procedures should be adopted to address the possibility of live streams providing tactical details. Because of the nature of broadcasts being seen in real time and potentially going viral, law enforcement agencies must begin to monitor these live streams in real time. LexisNexis Social Media Monitor, powered by DigitalStakeout, is able to monitor this type of content in real time.

While live streaming video does provide challenges for officer safety, law enforcement agencies can monitor live streams to minimize or remove those challenges. Being aware, in real time, what the public at large is seeing will make a big difference.


The content of this article reflects the author’s personal opinions only and does not reflect the opinions of any organization.

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