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?