Should Detroit Police Have Had Cameras Rolling When Girl was Shot?

Seven-year-old Aiyanna Jones killed during police raid.

ByABC News
January 21, 2010, 7:45 AM

Detroit, Michigan, May. 18, 2010— -- The death of a 7-year-old girl who was shot during a police raid in Detroit while cameras were rolling could raise questions about whether police behavior changes when they know someone's watching.

A spokesman for the A&E program "The First 48" tells ABC News they had a camera crew along with the Detroit police when Aiyanna Jones was shot and killed during the execution of a search warrant to find a man wanted in connection with a murder. The camera crew was not inside the house when the girl was hit. The raid happened early Sunday morning.

Although there's no direct evidence to suggest the camera crew's presence changed officers' behavior, Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University who follows television and popular culture, says cameras following cops is a touchy situation.

"I'm all for press freedom," said Thompson in an interview, "But I have always thought anything you do to distract people who enter a dangerous situation armed with weaponry is not a good idea."

"When I watch 'Cops' -- and I like the program -- I have always thought that's got to be, on one level, distracting."

Thompson says there's no question people change their behavior when cameras are around.

"Heisenberg's uncertainty principal tells us that even molecules under observation behave differently," he said. "When a camera is present some may be extra careful. On the other hand, there may be people who consciously or unconsciously are going to want to perform more heroically or with more machismo."

The issue of photographers influencing soliders' actions goes back as far as World War I, Thompson says, but free speech has usually prevailed over objections to documentarians traveling with soliders.