Monday, June 6, 2011

Citizens With Cameras?

There have been some officers who have asked state legislatures to limit the ability of citizens to take police in the performance of their duties. This is a mistake. We cannot in a free society prohibit people from filming people in a public place. Police themselves take video of people with dashcams, helmetcams and other types of cameras. What we need to do is to limit the ability of people to take the photo of police in the performance of their duties if it interferes with those duties.

Anyone who is under detention or who is participating in a traffic stop should not have the right to video tape the police in the performance of their duties. Passers by should not be able to photograph police activities within a reasonable distance of those activities. Certainly they should not be able to stand in the road, violate a crime scene, or even be close enough to pose an officer safety danger to the officer. I would say that in general I would like citizens to have to stay about twenty to thirty feet away from officers in the performance of their duties.

The video of Rodney King was taken from across the street. With even a poor camera activists or people being oppressed by the police should be able to take video to show poor or illegal police performance. It does not require the videographer to be up in the face of the officer. People in a vehicle that has been stopped by police for a traffic violation sometimes waste an officer’s time and even endanger the officer when they fool with their cameras rather than allow the officer to simply conduct the traffic stop. No right is absolute and certainly I could support some limitation on the right to photograph police in the performance of their duties; that’s what the SGT Says.


Dave Killion said...

I've been reading your blog for awhile now, and overall I've enjoyed it very much. I'm not currently in law enforcement, but its an aspiration of mine someday to join the local Reserves.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one. A person should have a right to record in a public place regardless of their current detainment status.

If the detainee needs to be secured, that's fine. Their recording device can be removed from their person and placed in an appropriate place, but not turned off, erased, or smashed. It's not your property, so you don't have that right.

In fact, if it's a video recorder, why not place it on a car hood and position it so the subject can still be seen? You're already taping it from the patrol car - what's a different angle going to hurt?

Are you going to act differently when being recorded? If so, you may need to reconsider those actions.

Standing in the middle of the road videotaping shouldn't be illegal because they are videotaping, it should be illegal because they're standing in the middle of the road.

Violating a crime scene with a camera shouldn't be illegal because they're using a camera, it should be illegal because they're violating a crime scene.

Violating an officer's security zone by getting up in their face with a camera shouldn't be... you get where I'm going here?

Police officers need to maintain a security zone to do their job - violating that zone for *any* reason - recording, hindering, un-asked-for assistance, etc. - is asking for trouble.

Fidgeting in a car during a stop is definitely a bad idea, regardless of what you are doing - recording or not.

But my point is, there's no new rule, law, or policy needed. Trying to add the "with a recording device" to any of these just violates people's rights.

If someone is safely outside of your security zone, it should not matter if they are just legally observing you with their Mk 1 eyeball or a recording device.

Nothing should change in your behavior or actions when you discover you are being recorded. It simply should not matter at all. You are lawfully discharging your duty in a public place with zero expectation of privacy. If you're not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.

With respect, remember who the professional is here. And don't forget to smile for the camera...

Bunkermeister said...

A stationary camera on a car dashboard is not the same as a heard of goofballs with cell phone cameras crowding a crime in progress trying to get the latest Rodney King tape. I think it is okay to video cops in a free society but officer safety can be jeopardized by people with shiny metal objects in their hands pointing them at officers. Also crowds with cameras create their own dynamic of misbehavior.

Officers should never unnecessarily destroy private property. Any camera siezed from a person arrested should be turned off just like their cell phones.

Dave Killion said...

Since I'm not in enforcement, I really don't know what it's like to be in the middle of a tense situation that you guys go through everyday. Maybe I'm being too naive/impractical - I totally accept that.

And all of these things you're mentioning - being surrounded by crowds, people getting in your face, fidgeting, not following commands, etc. - these are serious issues you have to deal with to a greater or lesser degree daily.

People shouldn't be doing these things, and you have the right to secure yourself from threats.

These things are bad in themselves, and should be handled the same way whether you're being recorded or not.

I understand that much of this unwanted behavior is motivated by the desire to record the event, but that doesn't make it any more right or wrong. Handle the behavior the same way.

Radically changing your behavior once you've discovered you're being recorded looks bad regardless of what you were doing right up to that point. And perception is reality.

To be honest, I think we're agreeing here, somewhat. You respect the right to record, to a limit, and that's awesome. I'm not sure everyone agrees what a valid limit is.

I'm basing most of my concerns on a lot of extreme situations that make the news, the blogs, or just YouTube, which I understand don't happen 99.999% of the time - not every shift is like COPS.

Most civilians don't understand that. Call it a variant of the CSI Effect - we see these actors doing police-like activities on screen, and we expect it to be that way. We're inundated by media - Cops, Bait Car, Police Women of X, America's Most Wanted, World's Dumbest, World's Wildest - and these are the "real" shows.

But we need to examine these extremes just same. We need to find those inappropriate actions - by both civilians and law enforcement - and say "That's not right. We can do better."

Thanks for letting me express my opinion on this issue on your blog. I'm looking forward to your future posts - they always have something great to consider.

Stay Safe...

Dave Killion said...

This is exactly what I'm concerned about:

I wasn't there, to be sure, there's always multiple ways to look at things, and I understand adrenaline was running high. This guy also looked a lot like the subject they were attempting to detain, and could have been a relative, accomplice, etc.

From the video, however, it seems he was a good 30+ feet away from the officers and was presenting no threat to them.

From this perspective, this looks like the Wrong Way(tm) to do this.

Bob G. said...

I believe it DOES come down to whether or not the people involved with making impromptu "vids" of ongoing actions are in fact IMPEDING the officer's task-at-hand.
That is obstruction.

If they're standing off at distance, shouldn't be a problem whatsoever.

I've captured scenarios on camera using a zoom.
Then again, I'm not "in the face" of any officer on scene.

And others have to know their place at any situation that involves law-enforcement.

Good post.
And good commentary by DK.

Roll safe out there.

Bunkermeister said...

You cannot observe something without changing it. Someone who is being detained by the police should not have anything in his hands, it's an officer safety issue. When trying to conduct an investigation having people up close trying to film is also an officer safety issue. That's why I said they can film all they want to, from 25 feet away. Even a crappy camera will capture any relevant information.