That changed Tuesday, when a judge in California ordered the release of video from two dashboard cameras showing Gardena police opening fire on a pair of men, killing one. And the video is fueling debate over whether the killing was justified.
Officers responded to a call about a stolen bicycle at a CVS store on June 2, 2013, according to court documents.
In the videos, police order three men to put their hands up, and all comply.
But one man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, appears confused. He walks back and forth, putting his hands down and back up. Police give another order, and Diaz Zeferino takes the cap off his head and lowers his arm.
That's when the barrage of gunfire starts.
Diaz Zeferino was killed. One of the men standing next to him, Eutiquio Acevedo Mendez, was also shot but survived.
The release of the videos comes as part of a $4.7 million settlement over the shooting by the city of Gardena, a Los Angeles suburb, which had tried to prevent the release.
"The fact that they spent the city's money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public's interest in seeing the videos," U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson said in his ruling.
"Moreover, Defendants cannot assert a valid compelling interest in sealing the videos to cover up any wrongdoing on their part or to shield themselves from embarrassment."
In the ruling, Wilson said that while the videos are "potentially upsetting and disturbing," they're not "overly gory or graphic in a way that would make them a vehicle for improper purposes."
The Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press and Bloomberg challenged a protective order preventing the release of the videos.
"This issue arises against a backdrop of tension and heightened scrutiny in the wake of several widely publicized and controversial uses of force by the police," Wilson wrote. "There is currently an intense public debate about police officers' use of force and public oversight thereof. The Court is sensitive to the valid concerns raised by both sides of this debate."
In a statement, Gardena police Chief Ed Medrano said the events of that night in June 2013 were "tragic for all involved," and he expressed sympathy for the families involved.
Medrano said the department has initiated new training, including equipping all police officers with body-worn cameras. The department, he said, has used dashcam videos and audio recorders for more than a decade to aid investigations and monitor the actions of officers.
"The District Attorney's 14-page review of the shooting, which is public record, described in detail what was recorded on the video," the statement said. "We have also settled a civil claim with the family. Thus, the criminal, civil and administrative cases are closed and our position is that everybody who needed to see the videos has had the opportunity to do so."
Medrano expressed "serious privacy concerns" about the release of police videos.
"Imagine the implications of criminals seeing and hearing everything victims and witnesses tell police officers, or victims being subjected to having their interactions with police broadcast on the news or posted on the Internet," he said.
Before the release of the video, 9th Circuit Court Judge Alex Kozinski had issued an emergency stay of Wilson's order until the matter could be heard before the appellate court.
The video footage was captured by multiple cameras mounted in patrol cars.