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.