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US Justice Dept Defends Right To Record Police 306

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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  • About time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by honestmonkey ( 819408 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:17PM (#40035969) Journal
    About goddamn time we get a voice of reason and someone "higher up" on our side. Not that it'll make a damn bit of difference. "Protect and Serve" is a joke. Cops don't care and won't care. I imagine the mantra from cops now will be "What photos? I never saw any."
  • We disagree (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:18PM (#40035989)

    Dear Justice Department,

    We disagree.

    The Police Departments of America

  • by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:20PM (#40036005)

    The elephant in the room is that they rarely have a good reason to delete the recordings. Why would a police officer not want his work recorded?

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:33PM (#40036159)

    If it occurs in a public place, neither the officer or citizen have any reasonable expectation of privacy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:39PM (#40036213)

    I'd say arrest the whole department on conspiracy charges.

    They stand together, they can hang together.

  • by p0p0 ( 1841106 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:46PM (#40036269)
    The reality is if they do it again they'll be put on suspension with pay for 6 months. Easiest vacation ever.
  • by sed quid in infernos ( 1167989 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:57PM (#40036355)
    Hearing about such destruction of recordings makes me think of the doctrine of spoliation []. The underlying principle is that when a party intentionally destroys evidence, there's reason to infer the evidence would hurt them, not help them. Seems doubly important when the police are involved.
  • by Nocturnal Deviant ( 974688 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:58PM (#40036359) Homepage

    what guanxi said makes no sense.

    It is very relevant, because the ones who have RECORDED it, recorded themselves being harassed and police have been trying to get those thrown out at court.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2012 @08:58PM (#40036363)

    It's a sentence. Just because we have insisted on simplifying everything down to where those who can barely read at a 2nd grade level can "understand" it, that doesn't mean that complex sentences that express a sophisticated set of connected ideas are invalid.

  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:05PM (#40036425)

    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).
    2) A police officer goes to jail for at least a year over this.
    Until then, threatening letters, especially from this Justice Department, are little more than toilet paper.

  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:05PM (#40036437)
    If they are doing nothing wrong, then they should not have any problem whatsoever allowing recordings.
  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:19PM (#40036527) Homepage

    My question is always this: "Am I committing a crime by recording this?"

    If the answer is "Yes, I am", then deleting the photos/videos is destroying evidence.
    If the answer is "No, I'm not", then they have no reason for deleting the photos/videos.

  • Something Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ToastedRhino ( 2015614 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:20PM (#40036543)

    It's great how when something good actually happens in the US the comments on Slashdot are still mostly negative.

    The existence of these letters and their public nature will make it basically impossible for any police department in the country to win a case in which they are accused of illegally destroying a recording. The legal arguments are handed to us here, by the DoJ no less. This creates a huge financial incentive for states and cities to make sure that their officers are not destroying recordings, and as they say, money talks. This seems like a good move which saves the administration from having to arrest police officers while accomplishing basically the same goal.

  • by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:24PM (#40036567) Homepage
    "In recent times, it seems that 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, . . . . . "

    Remove the comma after 'times' and put it after 'war'.

    It's simply very poor sentence construction so typical of the younger generation. Did none of you pay attention in English class?!?
  • by ifwm ( 687373 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @09:27PM (#40036583) Journal
    "That wouldn't be a federal crime. " Incorrect, it would in fact be a violation of both the 1st and 14th. The FBI is tasked with investigating civil rights violations by police departments, which this is. Glad I could educate you.
  • Re:About time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by chuckymonkey ( 1059244 ) <.charles.d.burton. .at.> on Thursday May 17, 2012 @10:15PM (#40036893) Journal
    I know I'm responding to an AC here, but I think this needs to be said. Every cop is culpable for the actions of these bad cops because almost none of them stand up for what's right. What happens to these guys is they're put on paid vacation for a couple weeks until everyone forgets that they did something, no matter how heinous or egregious the violation was. When the rest of the police force stands up and starts throwing the bad cops out to the curb, then I'll stop lumping them in together. Until then, they're all in cahoots as far as I'm concerned and I'll avoid dealing with them by whatever means I have.
  • Re:About time (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bratwiz ( 635601 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @10:36PM (#40037017)

    Seriously, you take the actions of a small percentile of cops to represent the masses?

    It's the actions of a small percentile of cops that ARE the problem. So what's your point? If you happen to be misfortunate enough to have a run-in with one of them, that's all that will matter. Not how many others or what the percentages are-- just that one cop. He'll be a 100% dick and will be busy fucking up your day. But you can console yourself as you're getting ass-raped by the four biker dudes with skull tattoos that it's really not that big a problem for everybody else.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2012 @10:47PM (#40037079)

    Why? Because there is no gray area here. Nobody has a right NOT to be recorded in public.

    The US Justice Department HAD to act because local DAs gave them no choice. Every DA that thought arrests and confiscating/destroying video was an acceptable response to the public recording of LEOs should be disbarred. They are either to incompetent or corrupt to hold office.

  • Re:About time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SwedishPenguin ( 1035756 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @10:57PM (#40037149)

    I came across this about a week ago: []
    It says that half of the Greek police force voted for the neo-nazis. I realize that this is only one datapoint and it's in Greece specifically, but I think it's an international phenomenon that I have long suspected: the people who are attracted to the policing profession tend to have somewhat fascistoid tendencies. I'm sure there are some great cops out there who became a cop because they wanted to help people, but there also seems to a ton of bad apples within the police force, regardless of country. Of course police violence can't entirely be blamed on the officers, the politicians and the higher-ups set the policies that enable such bad behavior. I think Norway and the UK have the right idea - don't allow officers to carry around guns in their everyday work, I think this simple measure could deter some of the people attracted to the profession for its monopoly on legal violence.

  • by Tastecicles ( 1153671 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:09PM (#40037223)

    POLICE OFFICERS are public servants. Into that, read: as long as they wear the UNIFORM they represent (or are supposed to) the LAW, and are responsible for making sure it is upheld in a VISIBLE MANNER. When they fuck up, they should expect to be called on it. Publicly.

    With that uniform and the visibility comes the realisation that one HAS NO PRIVACY. If one cannot accept that, then one has NO BUSINESS WEARING THE UNIFORM.

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

    by archieaa ( 961120 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:16PM (#40037269)
    Simply put: With our police, we have created a class of "Super Citizens" who get to do things that the general population can't. It is extremely important that they follow the rules and we are able to observe their actions. The penalties for breaking the rules MUST be higher for those in charge of enforcing the rules. Anything less is a gradual invitation for creating a police state. Transparency and oversight. We always need them. Each of the three branches of government watch each other and All three should answer to us. I am profoundly worried by the fading away of the free press and its replacement by partisan reporting designed to comfort what ever political leaning you have. It is good for all sides to exchange views. It is good to challenge your assumptions. There also is great need for fact checking in the media. The need to draw attention to half truths and out and out lies. The real war has been a war on debate. End Rant.
  • Re:About time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bky1701 ( 979071 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:21PM (#40037313) Homepage
    It isn't a small percentile when it is systematic procedure in some departments, a procedure seemingly unchallenged by those in it. No, it is a representation of the masses of police. If they disagree, they should stand up. Their silence is agreement.
  • Re:Something Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:24PM (#40037327)

    It's not really that good a thing. At all.

    It formalizes privilege. It says that it's a violation of the constitution they admit is happening, and that they will not arrest them over it, but will instead brief in favor of the defendant. In effect, it /weakens/ a position of strength, but doesn't punish the abuse. It admits they know it's happening and have done nothing about it. It's like fining microsoft a thousand a day on antitrust violations... the punishment may be real, but it's wholly trivial and effectively legitimizes the violations, the same as wehrgeld used to permit rape and murder by the wealthy aristocracy.

    And even if it was a good thing, it's still just one small step forward after a hundred big steps back. I'm not cheering for that.

    The DoJ handed out legal arguments. What they have not done is:
        - prosecuted the officers
        - revoked their pensions or suggested they be turned over to the victims via civil forfeiture. Which, if you're aware ... is the penalty for a lot of relatively minor civilian crimes. Shoot a deer in the wrong spot, have some weed in your house... you can lose your car or home.
        - stripped them of the protection of their department and union -- as they are allowed to do by law in most civil rights violations.
        - revoked their qualified immunity when acting in egregious violation of law
        - revoked departmental immunity
        - taken out entire departments, internal affairs, and the citizen's review board on charges of corruption, conspiracy, battery, kidnapping (that is what unlawful arrest is usually), sexual assault (most frisks) and then thrown them all in for the rest of their natural life under rico. They are of course, free to roll on their comrades in exchange for a 5-10 year reduced sentence with 20 years of probation. The same as any other violent felon would be in a first time offense.

    Because let's face it. Citizens get the book thrown at them. Police should too. They at least have the benefit of a bit of training in the law.

    You want progress -- do the above publicly to TWO police department's, one sheriff, and one executive law enforcement agency somewhere in the US.

    Until then -- it is a mere piece of advice that it is a violation of the constitution which comes with no repercussion save paid leave and the possibility of a civil suit. Not good enough.

  • by joocemann ( 1273720 ) on Thursday May 17, 2012 @11:32PM (#40037363)

    9 dashcams failed, and you're an apologist? Please go away to some crappy country that deserves such foolish citizens.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:38AM (#40037771)

    I was recently at a US border crossing office where I saw a posted notice, as well as being informed verbally, that it is against the rules to have any electronic device inside the office. What many people don't realize is that the courts have repeatedly agreed with the notion that border officers have much broader powers than police. You can find yourself detained, searched, your possessions searched (including your computers and phones electronically searched, etc) and it's all 100% legal. Let's suppose we agree with the principle that because it is a special crossing meant to protect the country that the officers then have special powers. Fine. But, shouldn't it also hold that because these officers have special powers then they should also allow video and audio recordings even more?!

    I can see a point on privacy, but inside an office talking to an offcer across the counter, one doesn't really have an expectation of privacy.

    In fact, why doesn't the government itself *require* all interesactions by authorities be recorded? It just seems like good common sense.

  • Re:About time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by manwargi ( 1361031 ) on Friday May 18, 2012 @12:40AM (#40037783)

    Hear hear, mod parent up.

    That said, I have had the pleasure of knowing an honest cop that stood up to even higher ranked officers who were doing things they weren't supposed to be doing, and I made it clear to him how much I respected that he showed the stones that he did. If there were more out there like him, there wouldn't have to be so much animosity towards the police.

  • by Khashishi ( 775369 ) on Friday May 18, 2012 @01:03AM (#40037915) Journal

    How is that a guise? Visible firearms do cause a disturbance, and it makes perfect sense that they can make an officer feel uncomfortable, because they are an existential threat to the officer. Gun owners have a right to carry their guns, but that doesn't mean police will treat them the same as an unarmed person.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @01:03AM (#40037921)

    Normally I'm not one for collective responsibly, but since in this case their stated profession is the pursuit of justice and upholding the law, so is it fairly egregious that the typical response to official misconduct is the closing of ranks and whitewashing. If anything the standard of behavior should be higher and more strict.

    One thing about the letter, they mentioned constitutional issues, but I'm surprised the possibility of destruction of evidence charges didn't come up.

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

    by the_enigma_1983 ( 742079 ) <enigma@str u d e l - h o u n d .com> on Friday May 18, 2012 @01:07AM (#40037933) Homepage

    Personally, I think if a cop doesn't "step up" that makes him part of the problem. The only good cops, in my ideal view of the world, are the ones who do "step up".

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday May 18, 2012 @02:03AM (#40038201)

    City police are only one of many police forces in the US. There are plenty of others out there, many that offer better jobs in terms of less danger and more pay. For example if you've ever been around non-military federal government buildings, you'll find they are guarded by police, not some mysterious quasi-military force or something. That's right, the security guards at the CIA for example are police, uniformed ones in fact.

    Well needless to say, those people have to be good. Not only do they need to be vigilant in their job, but they'd better be good at being respectful to people at well. The CIA is not going to be amused at all if one of their security cops assaults their analysts or case officers or something. However for that there are compensations. Nobody is very likely to actually try anything there, your on the job danger is very low, same as pretty much any other office worker. You get to deal with people who are generally nice to you all the time, not people who are hostile, crazy, on drugs, etc.

    So that also is part of it. The best police are able to get better jobs with better agencies. Those agencies can afford to be more selective about who they hire. That leaves less talent for regular city police.

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Friday May 18, 2012 @02:13AM (#40038251)

    I am not saying that the police shouldn't be recorded, they should, but I can understand why even if they aren't doing anything wrong they don't like it. First off it just kinda sucks to get recorded when you are doing work. I think if I came in to your cube/office and setup cameras to record you all day long, you might get a little mad at me and the "if you are doing nothing wrong" argument won't help mollify you.

    Then there's the fact that given enough recording time, you are going to do something that makes you look bad/stupid/mean/whatever. If I roll camera on you long enough, I can find something taken out of context that won't look good for you. Just how it goes. We are not perfect angels all the time. Enough footage and you'll slip up with something you say or do that you wouldn't want the world to see.

    Finally there's the fact that people recording may not have your best interest in mind, may want to make you look bad, and thus will edit things to try and show you in a bad light.

    So I can understand why they don't want to be recorded and it isn't just because they want to get away with shit. Even people who are on the up and up don't like it. However, they need to deal with it.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @04:05AM (#40038743)

    Exactly. This is why the phrase "a few bad apples spoils the bunch" is so apt.

    It does not mean that the rare bad cop gives the rest of them a bad name. It means that the rest of them, by derelicting their duty to serve the people and failing to protect them from these bad cops, are themselves bad cops.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2012 @07:38AM (#40039575)

    Black people in white neighborhoods cause disturbances too, but if it regularly resulted in police harassment you'd have the FBI involved in short order because it would be a civil rights violation. The right action for the police to take when someone reports a guy carrying a firearm is to ask is the person doing some other thing that actually warrants suspicion and provides reason for them to investigate. If a guy is just grocery shopping with a gun on his hip, he is just enjoying one of his many civil rights and the police have no cause to intervene.

    As far as officer comfort, if a person engaging in lawful activities make you uncomfortable, quit. The job isn't for everybody.

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

    by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Friday May 18, 2012 @09:14AM (#40040091)

    They're not supposed to have to give any of that information at all. Any citizen in this country should be able to walk into any police station in this country and get a complaint form upon request. All the bullshit "questions" being asked as a barrier to entry is nothing more than the cop trying to get some information so they can cover both their own asses and the asses of anyone potentially involved in the report.

    Why do you think they want their name so bad? Just so they have it? Get fucking real. This is the police department we're talking about, not Pizza Hut. They want the person's name so they can go pull their file, see the names of any officers they may have had contact with, and start playing their coverup games. The first thing they would do is contact every officer in that file and tell them "PSSSSS Just so you know John Doe is in here asking for a complaint form" and then all of a sudden documents, reports, evidence goes "missing" and VOILA! No more complaint, it's just someone trying to "get free money from the police department". That's precisely what the one guy even says: "I need to make sure it's legitimate." Who the fuck put him in charge of investigating a report? Does Internal Affairs watch the fucking front desk now at a police station? Please...

    No matter how angry they get at you, no matter how much the bluster and bitch, no matter how much they try to beg, plead, and cajole you, the fact remains that you do not have to tell them a fucking thing, not even your name. Asking for a complaint form is within the legal rights of every citizen in this country, no questions asked.

  • Re:About time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AdrianKemp ( 1988748 ) on Friday May 18, 2012 @09:28AM (#40040179)

    You've completely missed the point (somehow).

    When a police officer asks you for your name the correct answer is:

    "I would prefer not to tell you" (optionally including a reason)

    not to just ignore them.

    Ignoring cops will never end well, legally refusing to answer questions you don't have to usually ends much better. Not always, but then you have a real video for youtube.

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

    by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Friday May 18, 2012 @10:03AM (#40040485)

    Ignoring cops will never end well

    Regardless of how it will "end", we have a right to refuse to speak. That is guaranteed by decades of case law. Just because they don't like it or it makes their job harder, that still does not give them the right to react the way they did to it.

    You have the right to stare at them blankly and keep your mouth closed no matter what. Regardless of what impression that gives the police, that is a right that everyone in this country has. They cannot compel you to speak until you are standing in front of a judge, having already been sworn in before the court, and even then, there are restrictions on what exactly they can compel you to say.

    Walking into a police station and saying "I want a complaint form" only has one legal response: Producing said fucking form. The end. Everything else is nothing more than police trying to cover their ass and the asses of others in their department. They are not in charge of an investigation against a police officer. They're the fucking desk clerk, for fuck's sake. It's not like they have I.A. supervisors handling the desks now, obviously. Given that assumption, I think it's clear why they want all this information up front. Only a real idiot would think that their motives were not entirely selfish, because there simply is no other reasonable motive.

    Wrap your mind around this: What if the officer you wish to file a report on is manning the fucking desk? Can you not see how everything they're doing outside of handing over the form is possibly obstructing the ability of a citizen to file an anonymous complaint?

    Despite what you may think, we still have the right to anonymity in this country, even when we're asking for a complaint form. Honestly, I'm not interested in playing their fucking game, and I don't legally have to, so fuck them and their questions. Do you not see how simply "playing along" does just as much to erode your rights as condoning this shit in the first place?

  • Re:About time (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Friday May 18, 2012 @10:30AM (#40040795)

    If you subsequently ignore them or act like an ass things will not go well for you.

    But, lucky for us, there are no laws against ignoring them or acting like an ass, certainly not before you've given them probable cause, and asking for a fucking form is not probable cause.

    These rights will only remain rights if people stand up for them. By "playing along" to save yourself misery you're doing a disservice to yourself and every citizen around you that interacts with that department because it just reinforces the intimidation and bullying tactics these fuckheads use when the law isn't enough to get you to "respect their authoritay!" If everyone told a cop "Go fuck yourself, you have no right to my name" then they wouldn't play these games and you fucking know it.

    I may be an asshat, but at least I give a damn about my rights and am willing to put up with a little bullshit in order to preserve my legal rights. You play their game if you want to but I have more self-respect than that.

"Well, social relevance is a schtick, like mysteries, social relevance, science fiction..." -- Art Spiegelman