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Have you seen the online videos of police officers blasting music from their cruiser PA systems? Popular musical choices seem to include Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, The Beatles, and Sublime.

No, this isn’t a good-hearted plan to boost public moral. It’s much more questionable. Police officers across the country seem to think that this will prevent cellphone videos of their actions from being uploaded. Some are even blasting music from their phones while out and about. But here’s the rub: the fact that you can even see this videos is proof that the tactic is bogus. And police departments are sick of it.

To explain what’s happening here, we must rewind to 2021. After Steven Taylor was killed by a cop in a San Leandro Walmart, the county held a public testimony hearing in the Oakland courthouse. A group of demonstrators set up on the courthouse steps, many saying they had arrived to support Taylor’s family. So far so good.

Sargent Shelby of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department approached the group on the courthouse steps. It seems that he asked them to move their banners because he felt they were a tripping hazard. A man named James Burch who represented many of the demonstrators approached the deputy and they began to discuss whether the banner was a tripping hazard. Both men were keeping their voices at a conversational and being civil. Still, good so far.

Police cruisers parked at a crime scene with Caution tape visible in the foreground.
Police crime scene | Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP via Getty Images

Then someone behind Burch began to film the conversation. Mid-sentence, the deputy got out his cellphone and began playing Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space.”

Everyone on the steps seemed stunned by the choice. Burch asked, “Is that procedure?”

Sargent Shelby answered, “You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted to YouTube.”

His answer finally explained why multiple police officers and police cars have been spotted blasting popular music. We’ve seen this tactic often in Beverly Hills and the San Francisco area.

Obviously, if you try to repost a copyrighted Taylor Swift music video, her people will ask you to take it down. But few social media platforms are filtering out videos for background music. Think about it, if you go live while walking through a mall and there’s a Taylor Swift song playing over the mall’s radio, does your video get taken down?

What’s more, police departments are fed up with the tactic. For example, neither Sargent Shelby or the protestors were breaking the law during their discussion. But the Sargent’s attempt to keep people form filming and sharing the conversation is not good looks. And the rest of the department isn’t thrilled. Sargent Ray Kelly admitted that so far, the Alameda County Sheriff has “no policy that governs whether you can play Taylor Swift or music in an attempt to censor YouTube content from a public encounter.”

But Sargent Kelly added, “We don’t condone this…We’ve seen the video, and this is not how we act.” In fact, the internal affairs department is looking into the incident. They won’t have any trouble watching the video of the exchange, it’s still online.