It is a scene playing out more frequently every day. Average citizens pulling out their phones and shooting video of a police arrest. With the number of negative incidents that have played out in the US and now Canada, bystanders feel compelled to be the videographer of a potential abuse of force by the police and be able to get that video to a larger audience through television news and social media.

Recent video shot in Barrie of a man being arrested that later died in custody is an illustration that these incidents are not isolated to big population centres.

Peter Leon, a sergeant and communications manager with the OPP central division says police officers with his organization do not have an issue with citizens recording video of anything happening in public. He stresses if a person is standing nearby shooting video, they cannot become a distraction and must be a safe distance away, abiding by an officer’s instructions to back away:

And he says causing distractions includes yelling at an officer while he is engaging with a suspect:

The worry is that while conducting an arrest, the person shooting video could be injured should the suspect get the upper hand or pull a weapon. If that happens things have suddenly gotten a lot worse:

There have been examples, including with Toronto police where an officer has tried to get a citizen’s phone through illegal means because the video on it may be problematic if it gets out into the public. Leon says police cannot take your phone, but they will likely want a copy of the video and ask for that from a bystander. If they don’t cooperate, police will ask to identify a person, and if necessary obtain the video through more formal investigative avenues:

Leon says the public and police need to be aware it is a new world where video is pervasive and often this turns into valuable clues and evidence into what has happened. Police are not surprised when video turns up of an arrest or public interaction, but neither should the public be surprised when police want access to that video.