Should you record video of a violent crime in progress? Here’s what police say

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(ABC4) – In the age of viral videos of shocking acts filling the feeds of Twitter, websites such as WorldStar HipHop, and even the local news, the ease of pulling out a phone and shooting footage that rivals reality TV’s best is easier than ever.

A shocking video clip of a violent fight featuring the shooting of one man and the stabbing of another in downtown Salt Lake City was obtained by ABC4 over the weekend. The two-minute-long clip, which was exclusively given to the station, dramatically showed a group of individuals presumably beating on an unseen individual on the other side of a parked car. One member of the group was seen holding what appears to be a handgun.

After multiple members of the group stomped and kicked repeatedly at the invisible victim, a shout was audibly heard, perhaps in the direction of the passerby who was taking video on their phone, “Put that sh** out!” The person behind the camera turned the corner around the wall to escape the attackers’ sight and immediately heard the sound of gunfire behind them.

After understandably picking up the pace and quickly moving down the stairs following the shots, the cameraperson returned to their original location, capturing more gunshots and a man in a gray shirt pounding on the roof of the car while screaming.

The video ended with a security vehicle pulling up to the scene.

Thanks to the footage, which was taken around 2 a.m. on Saturday, Salt Lake City Police were able to identify the suspects and execute three arrests, two of which were booked for aggravated assault, the other for an additional charge of felony discharge of a firearm.

While the video footage taken did come in handy on this particular occasion, it didn’t come without the obvious risk of danger. Not only was the cameraperson clearly evading risk of being caught in the crossfire while documenting the event, but they also requested to be kept anonymous while communicating the events to ABC4’s Jordan Burrows, even asking for the sound of their voice to be extracted from the video, for fear of retribution.

Although the video did assist authorities in their investigation, the same authorities want to make it clear, it’s not in any way expected that a passerby puts themselves in danger to document a crime.

“Safety is of the utmost priority,” Salt Lake City Police Department Sgt. Mark Wian says. “We don’t want to put anyone, any witness or community member that’s seeing something happening, in a compromising position.”

Of course, being a good witness is always appreciated in terms of sharing anything that can be provided, even if the descriptions aren’t saved on the passerby’s camera roll on their phone, but Wian emphasizes that getting too close or feeling compelled to see the entirety of the incident isn’t encouraged or necessary. The detectives can work to fill in the blanks afterward, he says.

“Call us, give us what information you have, then our detectives do great work of investigative follow up to narrow down what really transpired and things like that,” Wian recommends.

It’s important to recognize that should a witness pull out their phone to take a video of a crime in progress, there is tremendous potential of escalating danger. As seen and heard in the footage described above, it’s not unusual to attract the attention of the people involved.

Things could go from interesting to bad to catastrophic, quickly for a witness armed with only a phone and caught at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Anything’s possible, if someone sees you videotaping or recording what’s happening, that particular person’s attention could be diverted to you,” says Wian.

It’s something to consider when and if you find yourself unwillingly in a situation that can eerily feel like an audition to work as a photographer for the long-running television program, COPS.

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