An Ottawa researcher says the rise in cellphone camera videos and social media sharing have changed the way police officers do their work, for good and bad.

Gregory Brown, a sociology researcher at Carleton University, said he surveyed 231 front-line police officers about how citizen surveillance has changed the way they do their jobs.

Gregory Brown Carleton researcher police videos use of force behaviour

Researcher Gregory Brown says some police officers are worried that changing their use of force practices out of fear of scrutiny might one day put their safety at risk. (CBC)

The average officer reported being caught on camera by the public 17 times in their career, and said that the potential to be photographed has changed their behaviour.

About 74 per cent of the officers who participated in the study reported having modified different aspects of their behaviour while on duty.

More than half of them said it's reduced the number of times they use force on the job or that they have reduced the strength of the force they use.

"This is a transformation in the social relationship between the police and the public that's literally taken place in the last couple of years," Brown said.

Some officers worried about increased risk

Brown said some officers reported that they're worried the changes in response might one day put an officer in harm's way.

"Is a police officer going to get hurt because they hesitate in doing something they're entitled to do, and probably they should do, but they're worried about how it's going to look on video?" Brown said. 


Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau says he doesn't think police officers are changing their behaviour because of the possibility of being photographed.

Ottawa police said civilian smartphone videos of officers responding to calls are on the rise, and that it can sometimes take weeks to investigate cases of alleged wrongdoing by speaking to the officers involved, as well as witnesses.

But Chief Charles Bordeleau said it hasn't put a strain on the professional standards section's resources.

Ottawa police chief says behaviours aren't changing

Bordeleau also said that while cellphone videos don't always tell the whole story about a police response, anything that increases transparency and a feeling of accountability is a good thing.

"From my perspective, accountability and transparency are critical to our success to make sure we have the confidence of the community in their police service. So anything that goes on out there that supports that accountability, I'm in favour of it," he said.

Bordeleau also said he doesn't think police are changing the way they do their jobs because of the potential to be photographed.

"I don't believe that they're changing their behaviours as a result of being videotaped," he said.

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