Police: Call 911 first, then post on social media
San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies on patrol Thursday, May 25, had no idea why traffic was stopping on Highland Avenue until they came upon this scene:
A naked woman was walking on the sidewalk, and several drivers had braked to whip out their cellphones to photograph her.
But what some considered a treat quickly turned into a threat when the woman reached into a car and grabbed the head of a motorist. And when deputies intervened, the woman punched one in the mouth.
As it turns out, sheriff’s spokeswoman Cindy Bachman said, the deputies were unaware of the crime because none of the drivers had pulled out their phones for their original purpose, placing a call — in this case, to the 911 emergency number.
Police and fire officials in Southern California can cite few examples of misguided priorities such as filming the woman’s clothesless romp, but they are certain that people, in their excitement to document a fire or traffic collision – and be the first to post the photo or video on social media – are sometimes neglecting to summon help.
“When I watch the news, I am noticing there are a lot more people using their phones to report the news, which would lead me to believe they might use that instead of calling 911 first,” said Capt. Lucas Spelman of the Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Department.
“People are very socially engaged today and want to capture those viral video clips,” Bachman said. “However we strongly urge people to call 911 any time there is a threat to public safety: a situation that could result in someone being hurt or requires immediate medical aid. If you are involved in, or a witness to a potential life-or-death situation, please turn the camera off and call for help.”
Telephones came off the walls and living room tables 44 years ago, eventually becoming small enough to fit in a pocket. Cameras showed up in those cellphones in 2002.
Suddenly, everyone could be a citizen journalist. And the news media itself, which can’t have reporters at every scene, asks witnesses to contribute their photos and videos.
“Whether it’s a crime or tragedy, the first thing people do is whip out their phones and not render aid,” Anaheim police Sgt. Daron Wyatt said. “We’re in a society where everyone thinks they can be the next (director Martin) Scorsese.”
Now a fact of life
Going online and communicating with others is part of that modern society, said Robert Hernandez, an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC and an expert on social media and pop culture.
“It is baked into every aspect of our lives,” he said.
We record “Any momentous moment in your life, newsworthy moments, historical moments. It’s for two reasons: One, it’s just our norm, we’re constantly sharing every aspect of our lives. Lifecasting.”
Secondly, Hernandez said, a study showed that 9 in 10 of us have our phone within arm’s reach all day, every day.
“You can make an argument that there is a segment of the population that is into sharing before calling 911. … There are people who go on Facebook because they want the attention, and that is misguided.”
Stay out of harm’s way
Steve Johnson, co-founder of the popular Facebook group “What is Going on in Riverside County?” sees incidents in his travels as an electrician in the Riverside area and is sometimes the first to report them.
“The responsible thing to do is always call the police before you start recording,” he said.
Johnson said he has lost opportunities to shoot while he is on the phone with emergency dispatchers. He shrugs off the disappointment. “Sometimes it’s not in the cards,” he said.
There can be value in the videos or photographs if they provide evidence of who committed a crime or how a collision happened.
“But you don’t want to put yourself in a position to get hurt or be the victim of retaliation,” Anaheim’s Wyatt said.
Said Torrance police Sgt. Ronald Harris: “If you see something, say something. To have video evidence is great. Obviously to say something is important. But it doesn’t do as much as it can as if it were properly reported through the right channel” such as a call to police.
And public safety officials generally don’t mind people shooting crime scenes, fires or traffic collisions as long as they don’t get in the way of rescuers or put themselves in danger.
“In some situations, they are putting themselves in harm’s way and that really concerns me because we don’t want additional people becoming part of an emergency,” Cal Fire’s Spelman said.
Don’t report crimes on Facebook
A side issue to social media and emergencies is that people sometimes report crimes by posting to a police department’s Facebook page. Those pages usually warn visitors that police do not monitor the pages 24/7.
“We do get a lot of that,” Riverside police Officer Ryan Railsback said. “if you need to report something, call 911 or the nonemergency number. But don’t report it for the first time through Facebook.”
The Oconee County Sheriff’s Department in Georgia took a humorous approach to the issue. Officials described on Facebook the types of incidents requiring immediate response that should not be reported via Facebook. Among them:
Things on fire that shouldn’t be on fire.
Livestock running loose in a roadway.
People running loose in a roadway.
People impaled with objects with which they would rather not be impaled.
Then there are exceptions.
Hernandez, the USC associate professor, noted Diamond Reynolds’ live post to Facebook in July 2016 of the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of her boyfriend, Philandro Castille, who was shot in his car as he reached for his registration.
“I wanted everybody in the world to see what the police do” Reynolds told reporters.
Still, the bottom line, officials say, is that no matter how tempting it is to photograph something before or instead of calling police – even if it’s a naked woman – people should put public safety first.
“There’s this entire structure where three numbers can bring help – 911 – and that’s pretty … effective,” Hernandez said.
Article by Brian Rokos from The Press-Enterprise