Democratizing Proof: Pooling Police Body Camera and Public Cell Phone Videos

42 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2021

See all articles by Mary D. Fan

Mary D. Fan

University of Washington School of Law

Date Written: 2018


There are two cultural revolutions in recording the police. From the vantage of police departments, there is the rapidly spreading uptake of police-worn body cameras. On the public side, community members are increasingly using their cell phone cameras to record the police. Together, these dual recording revolutions are generating important new questions and possibilities regarding the balance of power in producing proof and illuminating contested encounters. This Essay is about how pooling police body camera and public videos can address three emerging challenges in the police recording revolution. The first challenge is the controversy over failures to record contested encounters by officers wearing body cameras. The second is the perceptual biases and limitations of body-camera video. The third is nondisclosure and policy limits on use of body-camera video to detect violations.

This Essay argues that pooling public and police videos serves an important function in addition to offering evidence to solve crime. Including public videos in the official record democratizes proof so that members of the public can help shape and contest the official story. Perspective matters. A story can shift powerfully depending on the vantage point from which it is perceived and filmed—and depending on whether it is recorded at all. In addition to enhancing investigations, pooling public videos with police reports and recordings can better inform prosecutorial, defense, and judicial decision-making as well as police regulation.

Keywords: Recording the Police, Cell Phone Videos of the Police, Police-Worn Body Cameras, Pooling Police Videos, Private and Public Videos of the Police, Nondisclosure of Police Body Camera Videos

Suggested Citation

Fan, Mary, Democratizing Proof: Pooling Police Body Camera and Public Cell Phone Videos (2018). North Carolina Law Review, Vol. 96, 2018, Available at SSRN:

Mary Fan (Contact Author)

University of Washington School of Law ( email )

William H. Gates Hall
Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98195
United States


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