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The Social Media Police Bodycam Video Industry: Where the Vids Come From May Surprise You

  • Police Bodycam“Entitled Princess Immediately Regrets Spitting on Cops!”
  • “Police Shocked Her Blood Alcohol Level is THREE TIMES The Limit!”
  • “Routine DUI Stop Erupts in Chaos!”
  • “Police Didn’t Expect to Find THIS In Teenager’s Trunk!”

If you’ve scrolled on YouTube, searched on YouTube, or ever searched for anything police-related on the web, then video titles like the above are familiar to you.  Everyone’s favorite long-form video hoster is awash in police bodycam video.

Bodycams are a relatively recent phenomenon.  I thought they came around in the early 2000s, but actually they didn’t hit mainstream until the late teens.  The city of Chicago, for example, only deployed them universally starting in 2017 and there are still small departments which don’t have them.

A police bodycam is a small Raspberry Pi-sized rugged video cam that an officer wears on his or her torso.  They typically hold 12+ hours of video, so in routine use a police officer will switch it on once their shift starts and dump the video to a repository at the end of their day.  Like car dashcams, the wearer can trigger “save this event” moments, but the point is that all 12 hours are there – every interaction, every traffic stop, ever conversation…everything except the officer using the restroom (I hope).

Studies have shown these systems pay for themselves.  When I worked in trucking, we deployed cameras and instantly saved millions a year in lawsuits.  Every motorist who had an accident involving one of our vehicles used to see big dollar signs.  After cameras, all of that cost went away because our attorneys could immediately pull up video showing the would-be millionaire swerving into traffic, brake-checking the truck, or driving drunk for three miles before the collision.  We went from several multi-million-dollar settlements per year to zero.

Likewise, police bodycam have twin benefits.  It reminds officers that everything they do is watched, reducing citizen complaints about abuse of power, and likewise all the nonsense complaints (“my rights were violated!”) are eliminated once the perpetrator who claims they were savagely beaten is shown initiating the fight with the cop.

Enter Social Media

It wasn’t long before someone had the idea that people besides juries, prosecutors, and police admins might like to watch the video.  And hence an industry was born.

Today hundreds of channels with names like “California Bodycam”, “Felon’s Footprints”, “Crime Watch”, and other names have thousands of videos on YouTube.  Some will show anything, and others specialize in areas such as DUI arrests, sovereign citizen fails, or shootouts.

These channels work via Freedom of Information Act requests.  When they get a tip there is some juicy police action – a hilarious DUI stop, a violent eviction, a shoot-out, or a high speed chase – they submit a FOIA request to the relevant police department.  The department’s admins then take the footage and painstakingly redact it, bleeping audio and blacking out video that contains things such as images of driver’s licenses, internal police laptop screens, people babbling about their health history, phone numbers and social security numbers, etc.  The cost of this work is billed to the requester, as well as the time, effort, and materials needed to produce the actual video.

These YT channels then take the video and do more work, such as:

  • Cleaning up the audio, which is frequently garbled
  • Adding subtitles
  • Trimming and fast-forwarding past boring parts
  • Adding their own commentary
  • And most importantly, adding watermarks so that other channels can’t swipe it

Probably the most famous example is Real World Police, which struck gold in the Jeremy DeWitte saga.  If you’re not familiar with DeWitte, he’s a serial police impersonator who operates a “funeral escort service” in Florida.  While usually funeral escorts consist of a couple vehicles with flashing lights whose purpose is to make sure the funeral procession (driving from church to cemetery) doesn’t get broken up by stoplights, DeWitte turned it into a sort of Wagner Group Light.  His boys were outfitted with police-like motorcycles, paramilitary outfits, etc., racing up and down streets and high speed and illegally barking orders at random motorists.

DeWitte was repeatedly busted for impersonating police (and later was featured on Dr. Phil) and his own bodycam footage (because if you’re going to be a police impersonator, you need a bodycam, the footage of which was later used in evidence and hence FOIA’d) featured his outrageous screaming in traffic stunts.  Some of the RWP videos have > 1 million views.

Where Does the Footage Come From?

In the case of DeWitte, his notoriety ensured someone would eventually put the video up.

But what about a typical DUI stop?  How exactly does video flow from a street encounter to YouTube?  Certainly not every DUI stop is on YouTube.  Most are boring by-the-numbers affairs.  Sure, if you’re Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle) and you get stopped in your sports car for speeding on the island you own, that’ll generate news.  And certainly if a congressman, senator, or city official is pulled over, that’ll make the news.

But how does a YT channel find out about an interesting traffic stop if there are no celebrities or mainstream newsworthy events?

Think about the process.  Let’s say the police conduct a traffic stop in which they arrest a drunken stripper falling out of her bikini who spews sovereign citizen nonsense and bites one of them.  (This is not as unusual a scenario as it might seem).

Later, video of this encounter shows up on YouTube, where millions of viewers enjoy the spectacle and the psychological thrill of knowing that your day is going to be a lot better than hers.

The Drunk Strippers Arrested or whatever channel got the video via FOIA…but how did they know to make the request?

  • Are these channels pouring over hundreds of bodycame video every day looking for juicy tidbits?  Of course not.
  • Did the drunk stripper wake up the next day and think “if I put video of my arrest on YouTube, I can serve as an example for others and if I can just save one person from driving drunk, etc.”?  Don’t be silly.
  • Did she hire an attorney who said “I think the best thing for my client and her future prospects is to take this video where she is behaving appallingly and put it on social media for millions of others to see, and that will probably help her case as well”?  No.

That only leaves one person doesn’t it?

Yes, the police themselves are submitting tips!

Someone needs to alert the YT channels that a particularly interesting thing happened on a traffic stop, so the channel can create the FOIA request.  Many of these channels are run by friend-of-a-friend or ex-cops or even current cops who know people.  They have their networks of friends and tipsters who let them know that at 2am in West Undershirt, Montana there was a wild chase.

After all, they’re generating money for the city in doing this.  Cities have realized they have a new revenue opportunity in the thousands of hours of footage they accumulate every month.  When a FOIA request comes in, it’s city workers charging a fee for their time (plus a bit more for the city coffers) to do this work.

In a strange way it’s a win-win-win scenario.  City gets revenue, police get a little fame they can show off to their friends, YT channel makes advertising dollars, and the YT viewer has a laugh.  These YT channels are highly profitable because videos are often 20-40 minutes or longer, so it’s very easy for channels to rack up huge hours of viewership.

Do you watch bodycam channels?  Let us know what you think of this emerging industry in the comments below!


1 Comment

  1. Very interesting article. Not the type of article I’d expect on LowEndBox unless they’re storing all that video on a HostHatch or Servarica storage VPS, but an interesting read nevertheless.

    April 30, 2024 @ 4:44 pm | Reply

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