North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

160 Ridge Road

Chapel Hill, NC 27514

Democratizing Proof: Pooling Public and Police Body-Camera Videos

June 1, 2018

96 N.C. L. Rev. 1639 (2018) 


There are two cultural revolutions in recording the police. From the vantage of police departments, there is the rapidly spreading uptake of police-worn body cameras. On the public side, community members are increasingly using their cell phone cameras to record the police. Together, these dual recording revolutions are generating important new questions and possibilities regarding the balance of power in producing proof and illuminating contested encounters. This Essay is about how pooling police body camera and public videos can address three emerging challenges in the police recording revolution. The first challenge is the controversy over failures to record contested encounters by officers wearing body cameras. The second is the perceptual biases and limitations of body-camera video. The third is nondisclosure and policy limits on use of body-camera video to detect violations.


This Essay argues that pooling public and police videos serves an important function in addition to offering evidence to solve crime. Including public videos in the official record democratizes proof so that members of the public can help shape and contest the official story. Perspective matters. A story can shift powerfully depending on the vantage point from which it is perceived and filmed—and depending on whether it is recorded at all. In addition to enhancing investigations, pooling public videos with police reports and recordings can better inform prosecutorial, defense, and judicial decision-making as well as police regulation.



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