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Chilling bodycam footage shows the other side of policing

Arizona police release an officer's bodycam footage taken shortly before a deadly shooting. Everything seems calm, until a suspect in an alleged domestic violence incident pulls out a gun. Should the video have been released at all?

A scene from the officer's bodycam video. screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Footage of police officers behaving imperfectly has emerged more than once now that almost everyone has a cell phone.

It makes for news. It keeps people on their guard for what might happen. It feeds into people's need for justice.

Yet, there's another side to policing. It's one where officers are out every day, never entirely knowing whether a situation might turn in an awful direction, never knowing whether an individual who seems calm might suddenly not be.

Arizona police have released an officer's bodycam video in response to Freedom of Information requests from local media. It shows Flagstaff officer Tyler Jacob Stewart, 24, arriving at a house and having a seemingly calm conversation with domestic violence suspect Robert Smith, 28.

Stewart asks Smith if he can pat down his pockets. Smith has his hands inside them. In that instant, Smith pulls a gun. The footage ends before we see shots fired. However, knowing what happened afterwards makes the video more disturbing.

Stewart was allegedly shot by Smith and died from gunshot wounds. Smith committed suicide.

While the footage serves to create a chilling perspective on the dangers of policing, the idea that officers' activity will be preserved on film brings with it other ethical questions.

Stewart died December 27. Doesn't the release of this footage upset his family members, still grieving?

As the Deputy Chief of Flagstaff Police Walter Miller told the LA Times: "This video is depicting a young officer's last moments on this Earth, and he was tragically killed. I would like to see, personally, some legislative reform that allows us not to release certain videotaped reports to the media."

He added: "I would rather that the public didn't see that out of sheer respect for the officer and his family and the grieving officers here at the Flagstaff Police Department."

To the wider public, seeing what happened surely elicits sympathy for the police's difficult job. To the officer's family, however, it's a constant and painful reminder of a loved one lost. It's out there now. It will never be not out there.

Technology has, in recent years, raced ahead of the law. So much so that new consequences of gadgets' use appear every day, with no one sure how to legislate for them.

For every positive aspect, there seems a negative one too.

Where should the line be drawn and who is prepared to draw it?

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