The citizen’s weapon: A smartphone

Maybe someday, a police department will logically explain why it has such a problem with people lawfully filming them.

It’s become an increasing problem as smartphones become more prevalent.

In Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun reported yesterday, a department-wide directive issued Friday instructed officers not to arrest people who are lawfully videotaping them.

Boing Boing reports today, however, that when someone tried to film police overnight, he got hit with a loitering charge.

“We feel that anything that’s going to have a chilling effect on an officer moving — an apprehension that he’s being videotaped and may be made to look bad — could cost him or some citizen their life,” Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police., told NPR when it inquired last year.

A man in Boston made a federal case out of the issue last year, and won when the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled his arrested for filming was a violation of the First and Fourth Amendments:


“[I]s there a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public? Basic First Amendment principles, along with case law from this and other circuits, answer that question unambiguously in the affirmative.”

“Glik filmed the defendant police officers in the Boston Common, the oldest city park in the United States and the apotheosis of a public forum. In such traditional public spaces, the rights of the state to limit the exercise of First Amendment activity are ‘sharply circumscribed.'”

“[A] citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

“Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting ‘the free discussion of governmental affairs.'”

The trend isn’t just ensnaring regular folks with cellphones; it’s netting professional journalists, too. In Miami, for example, Carlos Miller, a member of the National Press Photographers Association, was arrested two weeks ago when he filmed police breaking up Occupy Miami protests. The police also deleted the video he took — or thought they had.

In Illinois, a House committee last week approved a bill that allows people to film police.

Why is this important?

  • Maybe someday, a police department will logically explain why it has such a problem with people lawfully filming them.

    He who doeth evil feareth the light. It’s as simple as that.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Police and thieves in the street,

    Scaring the nation with their

    Guns and ammunition.

    -Junior Murvin (covered by The Clash).

  • chris

    I believe this is one of those issues that both sides of the political aisle can agree on- am I right righties?

  • Duke Powell

    A word of warning from those of us who don’t consider all police corrupt, stupid, out-of-control thugs….

    While the evidence shown here that the police obviously made mistakes in these instances, it needs to be pointed out that the police may prevent unlawful recording of their activities.

    It also needs to be said that the arbiter, at the scene, is not the citizen – but the law enforcement official.

    If a mistake is made and the police act poorly, the citizen has every right to challenge the action. However, it would be best to make that challenge at a different time and place.

  • Conner

    I find it curious that the Court ruling includes the phrase, “[A] citizen’s right to film government officials, including law enforcement officers, in the discharge of their duties in a public space is a basic, vital, and well-established liberty safeguarded by the First Amendment.”

    Yet how many courtrooms allow citizens to tape the proceedings at will.

    Also, as to Duke’s point, he isn’t incorrect. But I also have to ask the question, what do you do if you see the police doing something illegal that might harm someone and are told to put away the camera? As much as I respect law officers, if I see something happening I think is wrong, why should I be forced to treat it differently just because someone is wearing a badge? That’s where mistrust of police officers comes from.

    On the other hand, people tend to edit these video recordings to take things out of context. Maybe a rule should be put in place that if you record police you have to give them completely raw uncut footage before making the film public in any public forum.

  • THis is NOT lucy

    “A word of warning from those of us who don’t consider all police corrupt, stupid, out-of-control thugs….”

    and that word would be I am a card carrying member of the NRA and my gun is bigger than your iphone?

    In the holy advent of honor killings and torturoonie, I will carry my camera with me at all times.

    “If a mistake is made and the police act poorly, the citizen has every right to challenge the action. However, it would be best to make that challenge at a different time and place.

    Posted by Duke Powell”

    Right, save it for later and take it to Judge Bowling for Red Lobster. Besides bribing the police and judges is more difficult to do when the supposed perpetrators have documented evidence of unlawful behavior on BEEhalf of the law.

    I think filming-iphoning-is a peaceful resolution to unfair treatment. Shoot film not people : )

  • Michael

    In response to Duke Powell, a lot of good police officers, who are not thugs, stupid or out-of-control, have no problem being filmed in public spaces, which they cannot legally stop. They are NOT the arbiter of these things, the First amendment to the constitution is the arbiter. In fact sometimes the filming protects these police officers from false statements. After all the police now use dash cameras on their vehicles to help clarify matters in court.

    In response to Conner; a court room is not considered a public space since the rights of the defendant and witnesses must also be considered. If you were in court falsely accused of being a embezzler, or worse, would you like it publicly filmed and posted to youtube, not under your control, so for the next twenty+ years as you try to get a job your interviews include having to comment on that?? This very issue is why the films from the court case in California, I believe it is California, are not being made into a movie.

    Carlos Miller, mentioned above, has the “Photography is Not a Crime” blog which covers this issue, http://www.pixiq.com/contributors/carlosmiller and the legal ways to protest being told not to film, where the limits are, and the many cases where police officers believe the law says one thing when it is not true.