After years of seeing videos capture officers in a bad light, Minneapolis police and other departments nationwide are trying to use the medium to their advantage, even launching their own YouTube channels.
Assistant Police Chief Janee Harteau says the goals are to reach a wider audience, offer transparency and allow the public to see what officers are doing.
Online video also lets police tell their side of a story. When a dozen Occupy Minnesota protesters were arrested at a demonstration this spring, they claimed that police didn't tell them to disperse. But police had video showing otherwise, so they posted it.
"We want to be transparent," said Harteau, who is Mayor R.T. Rybak's choice to be the next chief of police. "Here is what we did. You can see for yourself and be your own judge," she said of the video.
Larger departments in cities such as Boston, Baltimore and Milwaukee have had YouTube channels for years.
Jeff Bumgarner, a professor in the law enforcement program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, said when police release video, it gives them added credibility.
"It does take a lot of the wind out of the sails of critics who assert a lack of transparency," he said.
The Minneapolis Police Department is training the department's two media spokesmen to shoot video. Some planned events might be assigned to a crime lab videographer, or supervisors could capture footage on their cellphones, Harteau said.
The city has no plans to put cameras in the hands of all officers.
After its first two months, the Minneapolis YouTube channel had more than 6,000 views of its 13 clips.
Sam Richards, an Occupy Minnesota organizer, said the police video of the April 7 arrests is "like a joke." He pointed out that protesters' claims go beyond whether they were ordered to disperse.
"I don't think it's for transparency," Richards said. "I think it's for them to save face and maybe even intimidate us."
Minneapolis Police Lt. Mike Sauro said citizen videos often show only the end of a confrontation, when force is being used, not the circumstances that led up to it.
"Anybody who hangs around with the cops for a while" sees the difficulties they face, said Sauro, who was fired in the 1990s after allegations that he used excessive force, but eventually was reinstated. The YouTube channel is a good idea, he said, but the department shouldn't turn itself into a propaganda machine.
"The public pays our salary, and they should know exactly what's going on," he added.
In St. Paul, police have not posted any videos on YouTube, but senior police Cmdr. Joe Neuberger said video can aid investigations. For example, recordings made when the city hosted the 2008 Republican National Convention helped bring additional charges against violent protesters. And when protesters sought to use video in a civil case against police, officers countered with their own footage. A judge then refused to allow the protesters' video into evidence.