As heavily armed tactical officers massed outside his North Baltimore home Saturday night, MacArthur streamed his hours-long telephone conversation with police negotiator Lt. Jason Yerg live over the Internet.
It’s unclear how many people listened in, but the five-hour standoff nevertheless marked an apparently unprecedented development in the interaction of social media, digital technology and law enforcement, who are still adjusting to a world in which their actions are constantly photographed, videotaped and debated online.
By broadcasting the negotiation, MacArthur made public a sensitive conversation between police and a suspect, turning Yerg into an unwilling guest on a live talk show before peacefully surrendering in time for Saturday night’s 11 p.m. news broadcasts.
MacArthur was ordered held without bail on the probation violation. Authorities said Monday they were contemplating further charges related to the standoff and a sawed-off shotgun they said was in his house. Meanwhile, authorities have just begun to sort through the implications of usually secret talks streaming live — and whether that posed a danger to the police or made it more difficult to negotiate a surrender.
Police say Yerg didn’t alter his tactics even as his every utterance could be heard across the Internet, though they also concede that the negotiations were prolonged as commanders tried to avoid using force.
“This will go right into the training scenario,” said Elbert Shirey, a retired Baltimore deputy police commissioner and former commander of the tactical unit. “They will discuss this in classrooms and go through everything to try and determine how everybody reacted.”
Situations in which suspects take to digital media during fast-moving situations are not unprecedented. This fall in Pittsburgh, a man who took a hostage in an office building posted about his ordeal on Facebook until police cut off his access, fearing it was interfering with their negotiations. But such measures are becoming increasingly difficult.
“Every individual around the country is now an instant broadcast station,” said Robert J. Louden, a retired commander of the New York Police Department’s tactical division and a criminal justice professor at Georgian Court University in New Jersey.
Former Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III said that what MacArthur did can distract both police and the suspect, and invites outsiders to intervene in the discussions.
“It takes away from creating a real connection and having a real dialogue with the person,” Bealefeld said. “And all sorts of well-meaning people could interject themselves. It’s fascinating to the people at home who have this sense of voyeurism, but it’s also a significant hurdle for law enforcement.”