Most law enforcement people have pretty much had it with the cop-watcher thing. The job’s hard enough without some open-carry activist trying to goad an officer into losing his cool so the video can go viral on YouTube.
In short, most cops have no use for so-called “cop watchers.”
But there are exceptions.
According to a recent article in the Houston Chronicle, some law enforcement leaders have taken a different approach.
Brett Sanders is one of the better-known cop-watchers in a growing movement that has made life difficult for many law enforcement professionals.
His clips are all over YouTube and he frequently feeds content to activist groups. Many feel the best way to deal with a guy like Sanders is to ignore him completely and hope he just goes away.
But some very crafty local police leaders had another idea.
They hired the guy to help train cops in techniques to avoid becoming the subject of a negative police video with two million views.
“Some of the videos you see on YouTube are kind of embarrassing for law enforcement,” said Sgt. Clive Milligan, an instructor with the Vancouver Police Department who emailed Sanders in September, asking to use his videos for training. “Sometimes officers lose their cool.”
Sanders has been featured on TV news because producers know that there will be more interest in a negative police encounter rather than a positive or neutral one.
One of his videos shows officials with the Dallas-area Drug Enforcement Agency reacting aggressively to his filming their facility.
He also made headlines after posting a video that showed a police officer in Addison handcuffing him for filming the police department and refusing to present identification, which was his right.
“More times than not I would get an abrasive reaction from either security or police when I film,” said Sanders, who lives in Frisco, Texas.
Ironically, it was one of the mundane interactions between citizen and cop that got Sgt. Milligan interested.
One of Sanders’ videos shows police officers in White Settlement, Texas, politely asking about his filming, making small talk and leaving without ever escalating the situation.
“It just ends up being a complete nothing,” Milligan said. “We’re using that video as an example of how to do it right when there is no reason to get an ID or detain someone.”
As has been the case for years, cops frequently wind up being portrayed in a negative light based on what some call “contempt of cop.”
While no such charge exists, it’s usually the jumping off point for whatever negative outcome follows.
Sanders’ training for new Vancouver officers begins with a morning PowerPoint show called “cops on camera,” then moves to scenario training in the afternoon.
Officers attempt a simulated arrest in the exercise while actors come in as the “iPhone paparazzi.”
The goal is to train officers how to remain calm, recognize citizens’ right to film, and safely de-escalate the situation and save energy for important issues like crime.
Milligan wasn’t the only to ask for Sanders’ help.
Just recently, a retired Texas police officer who teaches law enforcement for the Frisco Independent School District emailed Sanders.
“My goal is to help [students] get into law enforcement careers and survive those careers without becoming YouTube stars,” Officer C. Turner wrote in an email posted on Sanders’ blog.
“I’m looking for videos where the officers were rude and/or very abrasive so I can teach these kids how to do it more professionally.”
There are a lot of ways to go when you feel like you’re under attack.
Thankfully, that includes thinking strategically about how to use all available resources to solve problems.