New apps can upload cell phone videos of police encounters straight to YouTube

SUNNYVALE, Calif. (KTVU) -- It was cell phone video shot by a bystander that showed what happened during the recent fatal officer involved shooting in South Carolina. And now a growing number of smartphone apps claim to help ensure that videos like this can be seen by the public.

During an officer-involved shooting in Sunnyvale Wednesday, Alvaro Camilo told KTVU he shot video of the incident on his phone.

"Yeah, we have a video, but they needed it for their investigations," said Camilo. "Yeah, they took the phone."

In that incident, an officer identified Thursday as 13-year veteran Benjamin Kroutil, shot and killed a man police say was carrying a knife he used in a robbery.

Sunnyvale Police said they do not intend to make that video public since it is considered evidence.

"For the police to say, 'We're not going to show it to anybody, it's evidence.' ... I have concerns about that because I don't think that lack of responsiveness is going to help build trust in the process," said Judge LaDoris Cordell, the Independent Police Auditor for the City of San Jose.

Judge Cordell says, at least in her jurisdiction, the rules about these kinds of videos are spelled out in their duty manual.

"They can ask you, 'Could we have the phone so we could download what you have?' And you can either consent, or you can say 'No, I'm not going to give you the phone.' In which case they cannot seize it," explained Cordell.

In fact, a slew of new apps have been designed for exactly these kinds of situations. One called Cop Watch will upload your video automatically to YouTube.

Another called Mobile Justice uploads directly to the ACLU. It exists in several states already, including Missouri and Oregon. The ACLU says a California version is coming online soon.

The goal, according to Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California Abdi Soltani, is to get the video out of your hands as quickly as possible.

"So the purpose of having it live upload is to eliminate the chance that the phone could be destroyed or damaged or that the evidence could be removed from that phone," said Soltani.

Judge Cordell says police can ask for a warrant for a video and that often emailing it, without you having to hand over your device, is good enough.

She says these videos can be a valuable tool.

"That video in your phone is your property. That's your property. So the police have no right to tell you that you can't show it to anybody, put it on YouTube. That's your right. It's your property," she says.

Judge Cordell believes smartphones have changed policing forever. She is also a big proponent of police body cameras, to offer more perspectives and more transparency.