Police visibility is often considered essential to public safety and an important aspect of reassuring communities that they are safe.
This can be in person, through police officers walking the streets or in patrol cars, but increasingly it's online as the world continues to digitise and connect through mobile devices.
Increased scrutiny, whether it be through civilian smart phones or police body worn cameras, can reflect back to police and communities' uncomfortable aspects of police-public encounters, such as police use of force and the challenging conditions police can face.
High-profile cases may not be representative of general police-public interactions, and their amplification can overshadow the more routine aspects of policing that might go unnoticed and unrewarded.
On the other hand, they can provide frank assessments of police and civilian conduct that police and civilians rely on in court - a measure of proportionality within a given context.
Social media has given the police unrivalled opportunity and visibility to showcase the breadth of their work that goes beyond 'crime fighter' media representations of policing, such as high-profile drug busts.
The 'crime fighter' image routinely overshadows the point that police are primarily communicators who rely on the public to prevent and solve crime. The good health of that relationship is central to the police achieving those objectives and sustaining public trust and confidence.
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The bystander video uploaded to Facebook of George Floyd's arrest in Minneapolis has sparked a global debate about the roles and responsibilities of police and how public resources should be allocated to respond to seemingly intractable social problems.
In Australia, outraged responses about the death of George Floyd were challenged with accusations of colour blindness, ignorance and denial. Numbers of black deaths in custody in Australia have been recited. As the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody noted, the underlying problem of the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody is a consequence of the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody.
Many Indigenous Australians get caught up in the criminal justice system through 'petty' public order offences, such as offensive language, that belie their disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Civilian scrutiny and public debate can help police and public consider not only what might be considered proportionate within a given context, but what legislation is proportionate to conduct as norms change.
Every bystander video of a contentious police-civilian encounter has the potential to be a teachable moment. Communication is essential in these cases, as non-police audiences often do not understand what necessary use of force might entail and make evaluations of police proportionality based on what a situation might 'look like'.
Every bystander video of a contentious police-civilian encounter has the potential to be a teachable moment.
However, digital audiences might also expect greater accountability and communication on reporting back to the public when things go wrong with public order policing. Police procedure might be ensuring that due process is followed and police internal problems resolved.
However, public digital audiences often expect more information and reassurance from police in shorter and shorter times, a capacity that digital platforms can facilitate.
The diversification and fragmentation of digital media means that the police need to be across more media platforms than ever to connect with their audiences and build and sustain ongoing community engagement.
Communication is central to clarifying not only outcomes in contentious cases, but in the constant dialogue between police and their audiences that sustains police legitimacy and trust and confidence in the police.
In a cruel irony, Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old bystander who videoed George Floyd's arrest and posted it on Facebook has been harassed online for not doing more to intervene in Floyd's arrest.
Many people do not know that generally, non-obstructionist filming of police operations in public is lawful.
The death of George Floyd is a reminder of how important civilian oversight of public order policing can be, the fortitude it takes to do it, and the role it might play in facilitating ongoing debate on the right balance between civilian rights and police obligations.
Dr Justin Ellis is a lecturer in criminology at the University of Newcastle
Hear Dr Ellis talk more on this subject and about his research on the impact of digital media technology on crime and criminalisation and how it affects police accountability on the School of Humanities and Social Science podcast Our Human Experience.
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