The video of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in South Carolina is seen by some advocates of police reform as evidence of the rising power of technological weapons in their fight.

That includes the smartphone camera, and with it, a growing number of apps produced by activists that streamline the process of capturing and broadcasting videos of police interacting with citizens.

“A lot of times, until these videos show up, the officer is going to walk,” said Darren Baptiste, the creator of Cop Watch, an iPhone app that automatically begins recording when you tap its icon and automatically uploads the video to YouTube when the recording is stopped.

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Mr. Baptiste, 47, is an app developer in Toronto, where several episodes of force by police — some of them eventually deemed unlawful — have been captured by citizens wielding cameras over the last few years. He said that when photographing the police during intense situations, people often get flustered — they may forget to hit record, or may not know how, or where, to upload a video. There have also been cases in which police, sometimes in violation of the law, confiscated cameras or phones containing stored recordings.

The app, which Mr. Baptiste created with the Network for the Elimination of Police Violence, an advocacy group based in Toronto, is meant to make recording the police easier and to make the footage less vulnerable to confiscation by the authorities. Once a user uploads a video, the group is notified, and its staff can review and, if necessary, alert the news media and authorities of any apparent wrongdoing by police.

Though it is only the latest in a string of cases in which amateur photography has been used to document officers’ use of force, the South Carolina shooting demonstrates the power of citizen-captured video in the most salient way. Michael T. Slager, the officer in the case, initially said that Walter L. Scott, a driver who had been stopped for a broken taillight, had taken his stun gun during a scuffle. The video, captured on a cellphone by a bystander, instead showed the officer shooting Mr. Scott eight times while he ran away. On Tuesday, Mr. Slager was charged with murder.

Cop Watch is one of a number of programs for smartphones aimed at helping citizens broadcast encounters with the police. In 2011, during the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Jason Van Anden, an artist and technologist, created “I’m Getting Arrested,” an app that could automatically send text messages to a list of prepopulated close contacts with the push of a button. Later, inspired by Mr. Van Anden’s app, the New York Civil Liberties Union developed the “Stop and Frisk Watch” app, a response to a line of policing tactics championed by then-mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration.

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The N.Y.C.L.U. app allows a bystander to record from an Android-based phone or iPhone by just pressing a button on the phone’s frame. The app can send a report of a police encounter directly to the group for evaluation.

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“We, sadly, thought the technology would be equally useful for young men of color in New York City,” said Jennifer Carnig, the director of communications for the N.Y.C.L.U. “Of course, in New York City if you touch your pocket to get your phone during an encounter with the police, you can end up dead.”

Mrs. Carnig said the app was used heavily last year during the protests surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which was spurred by the police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo.

The episodes also brought greater interest in police-worn body cameras, which record every police interaction with a citizen and upload the video to a server, where it would be available for later review. The Obama administration has called for $263 million in funding for police departments to outfit their officers with cameras.

At least some police advocates are comfortable, to a degree, in outfitting officers with body cameras and wearable technology to monitor police encounters with citizens. But the details of how that process might go have, in some states, slowed overall adoption of the process.

“There are privacy concerns for officers, victims and members of the community that need to be fully vetted,” said Ryan Alphin, executive director of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers’ Association, who is currently lobbying the state Legislature on two bills that would incorporate body camera technology into the rank-and file law enforcement agencies in the state.

Two of the largest police departments in the country, Los Angeles and Houston, are in the early stages of deploying body cameras to all of their field officers and dozens of smaller departments are well underway in their plans.

Scott Greenwood, a civil rights lawyer who focuses on police misconduct and who has consulted with police departments on how to deploy cameras, said that the rise of smartphone cameras had spurred police interest in body cameras.

“Law enforcement should not hope to rely on the existence of external video of witnesses,” he said. “It is best for the profession, community relations, and solid, constitutional policing to have the police departments create that record itself, and the best way to do that is on the officer.”

When it comes to citizen-captured video, there are few questions regarding legality, said Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel of the National Press Photographers Association. Mr. Osterreicher said that he talked to people on a weekly basis who had been told by police to stop recording their activities. In almost all cases, the police are wrong to do so.

“If you are in a public place, you have the right to record anything you see,” he said. “That is the First Amendment.”

There are exceptions for safety and for interference with police work. An officer can tell a camera-wielding bystander to step back a few feet, or to step out of a dangerous place, like a busy street. Mr. Osterreicher said that he frequently conducted training sessions with police departments on their responsibilities when being filmed.

“The younger officers get it — they’re used to being filmed,” he said, and some also see the footage as a way to clear up any accusations of wrongdoing. “The older officers are the ones who sometimes see it as questioning their authority.”

So far, the Cop Watch app has not garnered evidence of police misconduct. Usage has been low. In the year that the app has been available, Mr. Baptiste said that about 2,000 people have signed in to the program, and about 1,000 videos have been uploaded, most of which show people trying out the program.

“This is truly one of those things that you hope people wouldn’t want to use it,” Mr. Baptiste said. “The main point of this app is to make people talk about why we have an app like this in the first place.”

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