As we reported last month, Alameda County sheriff’s deputy David Shelby started blasting Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” on a phone in his lapel while talking to activists outside a courthouse. Seemed odd, until the officer clearly explained, on camera, that he was orchestrating a failsafe ruse to cloak himself from the internet.
“You can record all you want, I just know it just can’t be posted on YouTube,” he told the person filming. He was referring to a not-uncommon tactic: Officers use copyrighted music, calculating that YouTube’s automated copyright flagging system will remove the video. Shelby apparently hadn’t seen the social media posts of other officers caught in the act, nor did he anticipate that publications can embed their own video, nor that people can contest copyright flags. The video has now racked up nearly 740,000 views on YouTube.
The episode instead set off the Streisand effect from a livid and amused public in YouTube comments and on Twitter. It turns out, his colleagues didn’t like the look, which they communicated in emails first obtained by Motherboard via FOIA request, and shared with Gizmodo.
“WHYYYYYY?,” sergeant Miguel Campos wrote in an email to colleagues with a link to a news story and a quote from Shelby. “I am actually at a loss watching the video,” sheriff’s Deputy Phillip Corvello replied.
“Ugh,” public information officer Sergeant Ray Kelly wrote in an email to Deputy Sheriff Tyronea Maria Modeste, who replied, “SERIOUSLY!!!??”
In another, Deputy Sheriff Henry Montigue wrote: “Stay professional and don’t play Taylor Swift!!! Unreal...”
Captain Timothy Schellenberg’s instructed officers not to replay the video at roll call, pleading: “PLEASE DO NOT PLAY THE VIDEO AT MUSTER!”
“Protected rights are a thing!” Captain Melanie Ditzenberger wrote in a widely-circulated email. “We must never let our protection of laws override those protections.”
In another email, public information officer Sergeant Ray Kelly called the incident “unacceptable and not a good look for law enforcement.”
Sergeant Roberto Morales pleaded with the office to just do a good job so that none would need to resort to “Blank Space.” “Gentlemen, Let’s be smart out there,” he wrote. “Who cares if the public records us. If we are doing the right thing for the right reasons, we will always finish on top. We do not need this type of media coverage. Lets not be YouTube famous or even worse Media Famous.”
A few weeks after the story broke, the office enacted a Taylor Swift policy specifically forbidding agency members from “purposefully and knowingly, use or broadcast any copyrighted body of work in a manner that will adversely impact the level of professionalism, performance, conduct and productivity that is expected of a peace officer or professional staff member.”
Public information officer Ray Kelly told Gizmodo that it’s questionable whether the department will take disciplinary action against Shelby, but assured us that the officer has felt the pain on social media. Maybe it’s not punishment enough, though we’ll savor the knowledge that nobody wants forever tainted Google results.