Video footage of police shooting an armed teenage boy at a West End convenience store Thursday quickly circulated on social media, causing a firestorm of controversy and dividing opinion among Winnipeggers.
Christopher Schneider, an associate professor of sociology at Brandon University who studies the intersection of police and social media, says this is the new reality law enforcement must navigate in the 21st century.
"This is a trend we’re seeing in policing where you have user-generated videos of police using force. These videos are circulating online, sometimes in advance of police statements about the incidents, and sometimes in advance of news media statements," Schneider said.
In previous decades, Schneider said police agencies had a monopoly on the "control of crime narratives," allowing them to decide what information should be revealed to the public and what should be held back.
Since most people now carry cellphones with video-recording capabilities, it’s eroded the ability of law enforcement to always have the first word on use-of-force situations.
"Twenty to 35 years ago, police would respond, cordon off the scene, deal with the situation, then the news media would show up, and they would provide information to the news media, and sometimes would choose to conceal certain information," Schneider said.
"News media would then write up the stories, the public would read the stories, hear the stories, watch them on TV, and in that way, police had a hand in controlling the crime narrative."
As seen in Thursday’s shooting in Winnipeg — which left the 16-year-old suspect in hospital in critical condition — when use-of-force situations are captured on video, the narrative from police is sometimes at odds with how some segments of the population view the incident.
"The narratives are not consistent. You see online comments saying, ‘This guy deserved it, he had it coming.’ You also see comments where people are saying, ‘Nine shots? That seems excessive.’ Or, ‘Why couldn’t police have de-escalated?’" Schneider said.
"Meanwhile, you have police coming out and saying the shooting was a justified use-of-force scenario. These divergent narratives can lead to an erosion of police legitimacy."
Winnipeg Police Service spokesman Const. Rob Carver said Friday while video footage of incidents can help investigators, it’s ultimately dangerous for people to linger around crime scenes in order to record police.
Carver warned it is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt — or worse — documenting criminal incidents as they unfold.
"I simply don’t understand someone’s burning need to pull out a cellphone and record a violent incident," Carver said.
— Ryan Thorpe
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Friday, November 22, 2019 at 9:41 PM CST: Adds photo