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US Justice Dept Defends Right To Record Police 306

Posted by samzenpus
from the watching-the-watchers dept.
Fluffeh writes "In recent times, it seems many Police Departments believe that recording them doing their work is an act of war with police officers, destroying the tapes, phones or cameras while arresting the folks doing it. But in a surprising twist, the U.S. Justice Department has sent letter (PDF) to attorneys for the Baltimore Police Department — who have been quite heavy handed in enforcing their 'Don't record me bro!' mantra. The letter contains an awful lot of lawyer babble and lists many court cases and the like, although some sections are surprisingly clear: 'Policies should prohibit officers from destroying recording devices or cameras and deleting recordings or photographs under any circumstances. In addition to violating the First Amendment, police officers violate the core requirements of the Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process clause when they irrevocably deprived individuals of their recordings without first providing notice and an opportunity to object.' There is a lot more and it certainly seems like a firm foothold in the right direction."
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US Justice Dept Defends Right To Record Police

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  • by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:36PM (#40036193) Journal
    ...is that you can take pictures, and it won't matter if the cops take or even if they destroy your device. As technology improves, and the service gets faster, it expect it may even become possible to upload video in real time.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:44PM (#40036253)

    No idea how it is relevant to the current discussion, but gun owners who carry openly are sometime bothered by police under the guise of a visible firearm 'causing a disturbance' or making an officer 'feel uncomfortable'. Police turn exercising that freedom into an enormous hassle to discourage people from exercising it.

  • Re:About time (Score:3, Informative)

    by Isaac-Lew (623) <isaaclewNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:05PM (#40036423)
    Response: "The photos that the defendant automatically copied to (insert webhost/cloudhost here)"
  • by ifwm (687373) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:28PM (#40036597) Journal
    "That wouldn't be a federal crime. " And as an aside, it would also be a violation of the 4th, another civil rights violation. Happy to educate you again.
  • by garcia (6573) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:54PM (#40036743) Homepage

    Have you ever been involved in government at the city level? They most certainly do care--even about very little citizen participation and news coverage.

    You get someone to stir up shit about something like that at a City Council meeting and have several news outlets there and a packed room and I guarantee you that the City Council will not make the typical stupid moves it normally does.

  • by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @10:15PM (#40036889)

    What do you do when the answer is "YOU'RE RESISTING ARREST!!!" and they beat the shit out of you, taze you, then 'lose your phone down the sewer in the struggle'?

    And don't count on any dashcam footage to help you. Here's an example where nine independent dashcams mysteriously "failed" [harvard.edu] to record an incident where a reporter, who was coincidentally (of course it's just a coincidence, am I right?) covering a series of corruption scandals within the local government, was pulled out of her car by a dozen officers, along with her cameraman, and roughed up on the side of the road.

    Here's a nice passage:

    Although I was the first journalist in the United States known to be subjected to a felony traffic stop while on the job, some officers said I was "lucky it wasn't a real one." Had it been, they claimed, I would have been "eating the pavement." One police official told Washingtonian magazine, "McCarren should quit her whining. She wasn't shot."

    America! Fuck Yeah!!

  • by psiclops (1011105) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @10:20PM (#40036927)

    but when you get to seventh or eighth grade, you'll find that your teachers call this a "run-on sentence", and penalize you for writing such sentences yourself.

    No they wouldn't. because the schools i went to had english teachers who understood the language. hint:just because a sentence is long does not make it a run-on sentence.

    They'll also point out that "US Justice Department has sent letter" is missing an article.

    what would you call that word before it.

  • Re:Defy them. (Score:4, Informative)

    by J'raxis (248192) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @10:49PM (#40037093) Homepage

    Ever heard of Cop Block [copblock.org]? Not 24-hour recording, but a similar idea of always keeping the cops on-the-record.

  • by J'raxis (248192) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:02PM (#40037175) Homepage

    (The rare reason: It violates the privacy of a citizen who is involved.)

    Yup. This was always the excuse they'd bring up when we in New Hampshire [freestateproject.org] were fighting this issue legislatively [nhliberty.org]. Domestic violence cases, child victims, whatever emotional bullshit they could throw up to keep the wiretapping law here [state.nh.us] usable as a weapon to prevent people from recording police abuse---which [google.com] is [google.com] how they always [google.com] use it here.

    Fortunately there was recently a very positive U.S. District Court ruling, Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011) [google.com], which overrules all of this and makes legislative attempts to fix the problem a moot point.

  • Sue them! (Score:5, Informative)

    by reboot246 (623534) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:09PM (#40037219) Homepage
    Individual police officers (and other government agents) who violate a person's civil rights may be sued under federal law and/or state law. The main federal civil rights law is 42 U.S.C. 1983, which authorizes suits against state and local officials who violate a person's constitutional rights. Federal officials may be sued under an analogous judge-made law called the "Bivens doctrine". In addition, state and local officials, but not federal officials, may be sued under state law.

    When a police officer loses his house, his car and a lot of his future income maybe he will pay attention to the law next time. Maybe his fellow officers will learn something, too.
  • by J'raxis (248192) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:16PM (#40037273) Homepage

    The police harassment of photographers won't really end until either:
    1) A settlement over this costs a city a Whole Lot of Money (>$100,000.00 + all lawyer fees).

    How's $170,000 sound? :)

    See Glik v. Cunniffe, 655 F.3d 78 (1st Cir. 2011) [google.com]. Glik got a $170,000 settlement out of the Boston police. In New Hampshire, there are several people [google.com] who were similarly abused by police and now have similar lawsuits underway. The First Circuit covers New Hampshire, so I think you can guess how these cases will go.

  • Re:About time (Score:5, Informative)

    by IonOtter (629215) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:50PM (#40037479) Homepage

    I don't think law enforcement-in general-is prone to fascism. Fascism is a political/social ideology of extreme patriotism, such that nothing the nation does can be wrong.

    I would say that law enforcement is prone to totalitarianism, wherein the populace is strictly controlled in every single aspect of their lives.

    This may or may not be a predisposed condition of law enforcement, as in "they were always like that"? Rather, I suspect it is a product of the environment that most law enforcement exists.

    Law enforcement is not a 90-10 job, where 90% of the time you're bored out of your skull, and 10% crapping your pants in fear. It's more of a 60--20-40 job, where 60% of the time you're not in danger, but busy as Hell, 20% in actual danger, and 40% trying to catch up on paperwork. Yes, that's 120%, which means most law enforcement is running on a 20% deficit of time. Your finest days are when you can actually go home, on time, with no paperwork hanging over your head.

    This cultivates a very dangerous mentality of "Leave me the fuck alone, OR ELSE!". And because all of the other officers are in the same boat, this can foment a culture of totalitarianism, not out of a desire for convenience, but out of the struggle to merely keep one's head above water.

    That politicians and the public do not want to provide sufficient warm bodies to reduce the workload on the overall force, only makes the situation worse. You get a feedback loop that only gets worse and worse, until you have officers who have gone beyond thinking "Hitler may have had a good idea," to "This is how I am going to do it!"

    Is this acceptable? No.
    Is this excusable? No.

    But it is an explanation of a problem, and that means it can be fixed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:35AM (#40037737)

    Nobody goes to jail for these kinds of civil rights violation. You need to learn the difference between criminal and civil law. Like I did. I spent $130k and 3 years of my life learning it after I got tired of opining on legal matters on Slashdot without knowing what I was talking about. (That's not sarcasm; that actually true.)

    For a federal criminal civil rights statute to apply, you need something considerably more serious, like racially motivated intimidation. Incidentally impinging on someone's 1st Amendment rights by smashing a camera because he doesn't like being photographed isn't go to put a cop into a federal penitentiary. Again, at best, you could bring a federal civil suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, or something similar. In fact, it's likely that one of the reasons the DoJ published this opinion is because it will actually matter when a judge decides to take a case under 1983 jurisdiction. He then has to consider qualified immunity, and for immunity to apply it matters how ambiguously legal the conduct was. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualified_immunity

    Anyhow, you should be more worried about the FBI getting involved in a camera smashing incident than about a camera smashing incident. The federal government is one of enumerated powers, not plenary authority. If every time you don't like something about the local law you immediately turn to the federal gov't, pretty soon there won't be local law. There'll just be federal law. And good luck having your grievances heard, then.

  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Friday May 18, 2012 @01:15AM (#40037971)

    I'm a police brutality victim. If my assailant hadn't been a cop I think it might even have been considered attempted murder. I had no idea that I could file a report [fbi.gov] with the FBI. I think I will eventually do that although I have no proof and no witnesses. Well, there were plenty of witnesses, but they were all cops.

    It was before the recent case that confirmed that filming the police is legal. So I was afraid to record them because I felt certain that I would be arrested and charged under my state's wiretapping law. And I figured they would probably just "lose" my phone anyway. They'd say "What phone?". Now I'm afraid to leave my house without some kind of recording device. I will record the police at any encounter with them now.

    I think there's actually a good chance that the cop in question would come after me for reporting him. After all, he tried to kill me for a much lesser offense right in front of a bunch of people. So I may wait until I can get a gun license and buy a gun to protect myself and then make a report.

    This process has taught me that the police really are invulnerable and completely above the law unless you have at least an audio recording of the event or some unbiased civilian witnesses. Judges will always believe the word of a cop over a civilian. Juries also tend to believe the cop's story from what I've heard. People don't want to believe that there is a violent, abusive, and possibly homicidal and insane cop on the loose. So they don't believe it. At least not without clear video evidence.

    If I ever have another run in with the police, I might just make a run for it. I almost died the last time when I fully cooperated. At the time I was completely certain that I was about to die. The fact that I was pinned there unable to do anything to save myself was one of the worst parts about the fact that I was about to die.

    If there hadn't been so many police witnesses I am pretty sure I would be dead now. I was caught unprepared and never even tried to run away. I thought he was just going to arrest me on false charges, but instead he severely beat me and then apparently tried to kill me. I think one of the other cops there (there was a whole crowd of them nearby) pulled the enraged cop off of me.

    Although I dislike cops even more after what happened to me I wish I knew who it was that saved my life. I figure he at least deserves a thank you. I can no longer honestly say that a cop has never helped me or saved me from anything. But it's hard to feel grateful to the police in general when I was saved from another cop intent on murdering me and then charged by the DA as though I were the one who attacked the cop. Although the cop was willing to save my life, he was not willing to come forward to save me from going to jail for many years for something I didn't do. I didn't end up having to go to jail because I took a plea bargain, but I did have to agree to the absurd story while under oath and lie to a judge, making it basically impossible to sue. From what I've heard that's the point of the whole exercise. The price of my freedom was a false confession. According to the public record I am now the one who attacked him. Just out of the blue for no reason whatsoever apparently. My side of the story was never even heard by anyone except my lawyer. That's American justice.

    I think the only reason people mostly cooperate with the police is that they don't believe they are about to be murdered by them. That the worst they will do to you is maybe rough you up a bit and file false charges. I guess it's logical that a cop would be willing to commit murder for not sufficiently respecting their authority. They know that they can get away with it. So why not? To a sufficiently sadistic person murder is great fun.

  • by neoshroom (324937) on Friday May 18, 2012 @05:49AM (#40039191)
    When the parent says the sentence is missing an article, he is correct. It should read "the US Justice Department has sent a letter." The word before the quotation, "the," is also an article but it modifies "US Justice Department" not "letter," which itself needs an article.

    Additionally, missed by all of you, "Police Departments" should not be capitalized as it is not a proper noun. You would capitalize "Boston Police Department," because it is a specific named department but "Police Departments" should instead read as "police departments," as it not referring to any named department specifically.

    Yet, the thrust of your argument is correct in my opinion. The general sentence structure of the original statement is sound and the sentence does not represent a run-on. Some ill-informed teachers may wrongly mark such sentences as run-ons, but if that is the case they themselves are incorrect in doing so.

    Still, sometimes teachers request a sentence be simplified so the reading of it is smoother, rather than any actual infractions against the laws of grammar having been committed — and that case may very well apply to the sentence in question. For example, the above sentence would read better if "(PDF)" was omitted or if the same information was stated in a less jarring form, such as "the US Justice Department has sent a letter in the form of a PDF" or ""the US Justice Department has sent a PDF letter," rather then placing "PDF" inside a parenthetic expression.

    Thus, we could say that the sentence could be improved in some ways, but is not technically a run-on, even though other grammatical errors are present.

    Elephant Writers - Dull website, sharp writers. [elephantwriters.com]
  • Re:About time (Score:4, Informative)

    by AdrianKemp (1988748) on Friday May 18, 2012 @09:00AM (#40040001)

    I dunno, I didn't see anything too terribly odd in that video with the exception of the reporter being a complete asshole.

    If he had actually explained himself at any point or followed instructions at any point he'd have had better luck.

    Instead of just ignoring what the officer is asking, how about saying "I'd prefer not to tell you my name". For gods sake the officers in some of the video even ask "do you want to identify yourself" to which he ignores them or pretends they're about to beat him.

    News flash: acting like a total fuckwad in a police station will get you arrested.

    Seriously, there are lots of videos of cops doing the wrong thing, but I fail to see anything in this video that I have an actual problem with.

  • Re:About time (Score:3, Informative)

    by Dereck1701 (1922824) on Friday May 18, 2012 @09:42PM (#40048255)
    Problem with that is there was no way to do it without breaking the law. Its not against the law to say generically "I want a complaint form", but it is illegal to begin the process of filling out a police report as it is legally considered a form of perjury (this of course only applies to activists and reporters). The best way to handle a complaint against an officer unfortunately, is to get a lawyer, write up a complaint in legalese, and send it notarized by way of certified mail making sure to retain a copy. And NEVER, EVER talk to the police without your lawyer present. That way is the least likely for you to end up in a jail cell on some fabricated charges, but its not something your average person would go through due to the cost and risk of getting on the wrong side of the local PD. It isn't the way things should be, but it sadly is the way things are.

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