Video vs 911: shoot first, call later? The priority is evident.

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Image, courtesy majoritywhip.gov.

This article is an opinion column reflecting the analytical views of the editorial staff at Pacific News Center.

Late last week Lt. Governor Ray Tenorio and Chief of Police J.I. Cruz told PNC viewers that it’s more important to call 911 than to video-capture crime. We respectfully disagree. Inasmuch as evidence helps solve and prevent crime, recording evidence cannot be less important than calling crime in.

As late as Monday morning, the Guam Police Department was reporting that it had arrested three men and taken a minor into custody four days after the riot that occurred on Sept. 13 at White Laundromat in Dededo. And Police Spokesman Sgt. Paul Tapao stated in his release that the successful incarceration of suspects was “in response to the recent viral video circulating on social media.”

Clarification required

Yet this newsworthy credit to vigilant social media enthusiasts stands in stark contrast to the guidance offered by a lieutenant governor tasked with public safety and an outspoken police chief who appears to be in lockstep with his boss.

“Number one—and this is true of any event—before you get on the video, get on 911,” Tenorio told PNC viewers last Friday. “If it’s enough for you to be able to video it, it’s probably enough to justify calling the police department or directing someone else to do so—because it’s more important to get the emergency responders, medics, police officers, or whatever type of services to the site where you’re seeing this video. If this video is warranted in your eyes, so should emergency responders [be].”

“It’s great that we have social media and we have smart phones [that] capture these things very readily, but at the same time when someone is capturing these things on social media and yet not calling 911, that, I think, is problematic. And social media just adds to the problem versus being part of the solution. When talking about the Agana Shopping Center case, nobody called 911. My officers went out there but yet because it’s on video we are cracking that case. We have already ‘potentially involved’ in that,” noted Cruz.

So if police are cracking the case based on video-capturing and social media sharing, how is sharing the video adding to the problem? Although the chief distinguishes between posting and calling, both are forms of reporting a crime, and one is not necessarily more important than the other.

“Rather than just being the amateur videographer and posting, be that good citizen and call 911,” Cruz implored, adding that the island is seeing videos shared without crime being reported officially.

Common ground

While Pacific News Center agrees with Lt. Governor Tenorio and Chief Cruz that calling 911 is critical in emergency situations, PNC believes specific circumstances must be assessed instantly before a witness decides to capture the incident on camera or call 911 first.

When someone is courageous enough to video-capture or capture still images of a crime in action, they are gathering primary evidence—proof of a criminal act—material that is often critical in helping police identify and apprehend a suspect or even multiple suspects. And video information often serves as more effective evidence than personal memory. If a single picture tells a thousand words, a minute of video may tell investigators a million factual words. Timing is so critical in the capture that pausing to dial 911 before recording suspicious activity may cause the concerned citizen to forfeit an opportunity to wrangle up and share the moment a suspect is seen committing an alleged crime. So, in this instance, calling before capturing may actually be less helpful.

Nevertheless, PNC agrees wholeheartedly that calling 911 is also critical. While one or more responsible persons are recording the criminal event, others can and should be calling the authorities immediately, as Lt. Governor Tenorio suggested on Friday. If you happen to be capturing criminal activity on your digital device, it could be a lifesaving decision to ask anyone else nearby to be calling 911 while you do so. Waiting too long to call 911 could also endanger lives.

Better guidance in order

With the escalation in violence developing an undeniable trend that is borne out by Government of Guam statistics, PNC believes it is high time for the Calvo Tenorio Administration and the Guam Police Department to spell out clearer protocols for reporting criminal activity. And video could be the solution! Just as video can be a powerful tool in accelerating justice, it has also proven highly effective as an education, public relations, and training medium. Furthermore, the local police department could benefit from considering the value of incorporating more video recording devices into their daily interactions on the job, via body-worn cameras, patrol car cameras, or both.

Respect wherever due

Furthermore, “amateur videographers” are more important now than ever. When an overwhelming majority of adults and even many children wield digital devices with onboard cameras and ready web access, images always can and constantly are shared and disbursed instantly and widely. In comparing the ubiquity of personal digital recording devices with the purpose of commonly used digital surveillance cameras and the frequency with which the authorities turn to surveillance video in order to solve crimes, law enforcers should be encouraging responsible citizens everywhere to capture and share suspicious activity while also remembering to call it in.

A time to shoot

In the video newsgathering business, we have a saying that goes, “shoot now—ask questions later.” We know that every second of delay compromises our ability to capture important news as it’s happening. The irreplaceable value of immediacy and source evidence is the reason some police officers in the US mainland and at least one officer here are Guam wear their own cameras as part of their uniforms. And the locally worn camera has proven effective in gathering evidence.

In a pullover scenario, a highway safety officer who approaches a parked vehicle while rolling a body-worn camera or a camera behind their windshield is doing so to protect themselves as much as anyone else appearing in the video. The officer has no idea what’s about to go down when they pull someone over. Recognizing this, patrol cameras have become commonplace throughout the US.

The capturing of crime and suspicious activity on personal digital devices by everyday citizens should be treated no differently—and shouldn’t take a backseat to calling 911. Nor should citizens be criticized or belittled for capturing and sharing. Both actions—calling and capturing—are critically important, and responsible citizens should be praised for their ability to discern whether recording or calling is the priority at any given moment.

But inasmuch as most citizens harbor a human fascination with witnessing, recording and sharing, they should be encouraged and not scolded into calling crime in immediately, too, in order to help those who are hurt and to help bring suspected perpetrators to justice.