ASK MC

In a recent post, Rickety made a comment and asked the following:

I do have to ask though, what’s your opinion of incidents where police go out of their way to interfere with photographers?

I’m seeing reports of officers demanding that cameras be turned off and images deleted, confiscating cameras or memory cards, or even arresting photographers. I’m not talking about protesters filming each other as they engage in riot, I’m talking about folks photographing public buildings, photographing police action from across the street, or even posting video or photos to the web after the fact when it went unnoticed during the incident in question.

In short, police have a well-established power to photograph and video their interactions with citizens, but increasingly seem to feel that there is no reciprocal right. Where do you stand on that?

This kind of thing is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society. Here is a recent example of this very thing from Seattle, WA.

I could have a whole separate post on this video alone. Suffice it to say, videos like this are not unusual. As I type this, there is a jury in Los Angeles deciding the fate of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle based by and large on video shot during the incident.

For years now, we have been trained to act like we are being videotaped. When we (and for that matter, you) are in public, we have no expectation of privacy. That means any of us can be taped at any time. I believe I’ve mentioned it before, but I carry a digital audio recorder on me all the time. I tape almost all of my stops. Why? Probably not for the reason you think. I don’t necessarily use it for evidentiary value; rather, I use it to cover my ass. I’ve had a number of baseless complaints. I’ve had people straight out lie in said complaint. The audio tape has saved my ass every time.
Some of my co-workers have started carrying lapel video cameras. Personally, I’m all for it. The public at large has little or no idea the abuse cops take every day. I’m not talking about getting beat down, just simply the attitudes. You all are more familiar with it because you’ve been here for a couple of years and have read the stories of my experiences.
To more directly answer the question, I have no problem being taped. As in most things, though, there is a caveat. I’ve seen cops get baited into a confrontation so the “photographer” or “videographer” can get some sensationalized material to show how “abusive” cops are. If you’re not being an asshole for the simple sake of being an asshole, tape away, Geraldo Rivera.
Rickety, insofar as things being confiscated, my only guess to that would be if the material contained some evidence of a crime. Having never experienced anything along these lines, though, I can’t truly answer that question with any kind of certainty. I will say, to answer your initial question, going out of one’s way to interfere with someone operating a video camera (be they amateur or professional) is asking for trouble and only makes it look as if there was something to hide. Act professional (both sides of this debate) and there should be little to no issue.
I respectfully disagree with your assertion that there is an increasing feeling that no reciprocal right exists. Most cops I know have no problem at all being filmed. Further, like I said before, there are an increasing number that are doing the filming themselves. Perhaps turnabout is fair play. Maybe it’s time for the public to be concerned about their conduct during interaction with the police.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. Snark is encouraged. Being a prat is not.

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11 thoughts on “ASK MC

  1. I'm always amazed when I see videos like this because I can't believe how some people get right up in officer's faces and then get all indignant when they're injured or verbally reprimanded. And a lot of times, it's not even THEIR situation. They just butt in. WTH?!

  2. "Maybe it's time for the public to be concerned about their conduct during interaction with the police."

    Amen to that!!! In my opinion, that's the key to a lot of negative interaction with the police. Some civilians harbor an attitude from the start but are unwilling to admit it.

    Some people are nervous, scared of authority, downright nasty and just plain stupid, when they interact with the police.

    If people would just remain calm, act in a civil manner then things wouldn't get out of control.

    Frankly, I see no need to video tape the police. I see it as just being antagonistic and you will reap what you sow. Plus, doesn't it endanger officers? Doesn't it distract them from being aware of potential harm to some extent? To me, that is unacceptable.

    Be safe.

  3. I'm all for videotaping on both sides. If neither party is doing anything wrong and there is no ill-intent behind the videotaping, then nobody should have anything to worry about. Knowing that I'm on camera tends to calm me down in situations where I would be likely to let my anger flare. It's a bit of a reality check.

    Although it would help your defense if you did manage to run into a "crooked" cop, I'm guessing that in most cases it would help the good cops defend against the douchebaggery of "crooked" citizens and I am all for that.

  4. Everytime I see arrests go down like that people are yelling about "police brutality" but the video ecspecailly shows what your up against. He was one man against two maybe more if the others joined in. I think he handled that pretty well just as the video showed. We had one arrest in my hometown where the police had to shoot the guy and they did confiscate the video made by the guy across the street because their cameras didn't catch the gun he pulled on them but that guys did.

  5. In my unhumble opinion this video showed a bad situation from both sides. There's really no way of knowing [from the video] why the first woman was shoving the cop away.

    The second woman, the one who was punched, was clearly trying to help her friend. This was not the smartest idea, but in part I cannot help but think she somehow thought there was some real danger and she had to help.

    On the other hand, it seems to me [the non-cop who is, perhaps, pulling this out her butt], that this officer really let things spin out of control. Why did he keep fighting her, physically? Why didn't he get or wait for some kind of assistance? Especially after he punched the 2nd woman it makes me wonder if he's not one of those "I have to prove myself" type of people. I'm not sure there's a way of knowing what was really going through anyone's heads, and I think it goes to show how quickly and badly things can escalate on both sides.

    In lighter news, a friend of mine who is an amazing photographer took some awesome pictures of police officers during the G-20 meeting [and protests] in Pittsburgh last year. Here's my favorite: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chrismaverick/3955077936/in/set-72157622331774937/ My friend said every officer was polite about having his picture taken. This nice officer liked the photograph so much he tracked my friend down and asked for a copy of the picture! [Warning: other pictures in other sets may not be safe for work. That link is fine.]

  6. Though my comments are usually some attempt at off-handed humor, the first time I saw this video I could relate. This is what I as a teacher of teens goes through on a weekly and sometimes daily basis. Some out of control brat thinks she has the God-given right to any way she pleases. Nope! That is not a God-given right to behave that way: it is called being an out of control sociopath because your parent(s) never taught you shit about interpersonal relations. When do teachers get videocameras too?

  7. @Moose: Here's the story: On a busy street near a high school in Seattle, jaywalking is a chronic problem. There is a pedestrian overpass but kids are too lazy (or immortal) to use it. There have been 18 pedestrian involved collisions recently. This officer was apparently assigned to enforce the jaywalking laws, something done in Portland way more frequently than in other cities.

    He caught a male jaywalking and began to warn him when two females jaywalked from across the street and began to interfere with his stop. He asked the one female for ID but she kept walking. He told her she was under arrest. He grabbed her arm and she fought back. The video picks up there. Her friend came over, shoved the officer and she got punched. The officer's cover didn't arrive until almost 10 minutes after the encounter began.

    I disagree with your assessment that he had to "prove himself" he was battered by a person who apparently isn't concerned enough with her own safety to shove an armed officer. She was almost his size and he was surrounded by an increasingly hostile crowd. What's he going to wait for? To get attacked again or others in the crowd to jump in? Sometimes, restraint can be beneficial but sometimes you just need to take action. This was one of those times.

    Incidentally, both females have lengthy arrest records, including another incident of shoving a police officer, knocking her to the ground and kicking another officer in the stomach.

    In this case, punching her stopped the threat. It may not look pretty but it was completely justified. Actually the girl apologized personally to the police officer for shoving him and for her attitude.

    There are some things the officer could have done better tactically, I think. He should have taken subject #1 down to the ground immediately instead of dancing with her. He never actually did take her down and it took forever to get her cuffed. He probably should have backed up and tasered her real early.

    He could have used better verbal commands. He wasn't demanding anything and wasn't using the power of his voice to control the situation.

    Also, He needed to get on his radio much sooner, something I didn't see there, unless cover was really that far out, but that's not likely in the middle of the city. He should have called the minute he had multiple subjects, not after he got into a knockdown dragout.

    Also, once he got pushed, he probably should have arrested her immediately since she was most likely the greater threat.

    Finally, he shouldn't have let the crowd engage him in a debate.

    I don't know if any of this would have changed the suspects' behavior at all. They are violent criminals. But especially having cover there right away would have ended the resistance sooner.

    These situations develop very quickly and just because a girl got punched doesn't automatically mean he could have done anything better. The force, again, was absolutely reasonable and necessary under the circumstances.

  8. I actually have this geeky hobby that results in me snapping pics of police vehicles and buildings regularly. I never take one that might get an officer in it without asking if they mind first. I also wait until they're not busy, I'd hate to be mistaken for one of those people waiting for them to mess up. What can you do about people *sigh*.

  9. I have no problem with 99.9% of people photographing us on duty. They stay out of our way & that's just peachy. I do have a problem with the 0.01% of them who think holding a camera gives them magical legal superpowers allowing them to cross our yellow tape or get into our faces while filming us.

    You do that, you get warned to back off. You don't back off, you get arrested and charged with interference with a police officer. Once we do that, the idiots will wail about how we're stomping all over their rights and the constitution in our nasty jackboots. They see it as "being arrested for taking photographs" but the camera has nothing to do with the charge. Once they post bail they run home and post their (edited) video online and moan on photographer's websites about how our department has run the 1st amendment through the paper shredder.

    You cannot judge a situation by a YouTube video. Most people who post those conveniently edit out the provocation of the officers and the repeated ignoring of lawful orders. You only see the shouting and the arrests. You don't see the three ignored warnings the cop give the bozo with the camera or the stream of obscenities the wannabe Ansel Adams spewed in your face.

  10. There are two things that scare me (as a dispatcher trying to protect an officer's ass to the best of my personal ability): First, the almost "mob" mentality of the people filming. This officer is obviously trying to get her under control — for reasons we know nothing of. If his conduct is inappropriate, we don't really know 100% from a 2.5 min. sample. If in doubt, call the agency in question and ask for a supervisor to be sent to the scene. Let the Sgt./Lt./Capt. sort it out, it's part of why they're there. Second, we code 4 check on a 5 minute basis. I don't know the nature of this call or why the officer was there in the first place, but that group of bystanders was getting awfully close and could've harmed him before his next check.

    Bottom line, cover your ass and stay safe.