Tag: citizen journalism

Cops on Camera: LAPD Edition

The L.A. Times has an article highlighting the twentieth anniversary of the Rodney King beating and how video of that event introduced the LAPD to modern citizen journalism.

Today, things are far different and the tape that so tainted the LAPD has a clear legacy in how officers think about their jobs. Police now work in a YouTube world in which cellphones double as cameras, news helicopters transmit close-up footage of unfolding police pursuits, and surveillance cameras capture arrests or shootings. Police officials are increasingly recording their officers. Compared to the cops who beat King, officers these days hit the streets with a new reality ingrained in their minds: Someone is always watching.

“Early on in their training, I always tell them, ‘I don’t care if you’re in a bathroom taking care of your personal business…. Whatever you do, assume it will be caught on video,’ ” said Sgt. Heather Fungaroli, who supervises recruits at the LAPD’s academy. “We tell them if they’re doing the right thing then they have no reason to worry.”

That’s progress, and as I’ve said before, a video camera is an honest cop’s best friend.

There’s still plenty of room for improvement. The LAPD paid $1.7 million to a news camera operator injured by its officers at the 2007 May Day melee. LAPD officers have also been caught on camera assaulting a bicyclist and illegally detaining a man for taking photographs on a public sidewalk. You can track police intimidation of citizen journalists at Cop Block’s War on Cameras interactive map, patterned after Cato’s own Raidmap.

Here is the Cato video, Cops on Camera:

For more on cops and cameras, check out the event Cato hosted last year and Radley Balko’s feature at Reason, “The War on Cameras.”

Taser Cameras

UPI is reporting that the Taser Corporation is selling cameras that mount on their stun guns.

The cameras automatically turn on when the Taser is removed from its holster and its safety device is released.

“Video is going to help the officer,” said Cmdr. Steve Wilkinson, internal affairs investigator for the West Melbourne (Fla.) Police Department. “And if you don’t record it, the kid down the street with a cellphone is going to use it.”

As I wrote in this post and said in this video and this forum, this is the future of law enforcement. Taser-mounted (or handgun-mounted) cameras can show the circumstances leading up to a use of force and prevent lawsuits where force was justified. The camera’s presence on a weapon, however, can provide officers an incentive to present the taser or handgun sooner rather than later. Departments would be better served with head-mounted cameras, which are also likely to capture more of the events before an officer employs physical force. Expect more of this as these devices become cheaper (and tamper-proof).

Regardless of the form, use of recording technology to provide more transparency and accountability in law enforcement is a good thing.

Judge Dismisses Wiretapping Charges against Motorcyclist for Recording Traffic Stop

Maryland Circuit Court Judge Emory A Pitt, Jr. has ruled that motorcyclist and Maryland Air National Guardsman Anthony Graber did not violate the Maryland wiretapping statute when he recorded his traffic stop. The wiretap law does prohibit the recording of audio where there is a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” but Judge Pitt found that a police officer performing a traffic stop has no such expectation of privacy.

“Those of us who are public officials and are entrusted with the power of the state are ultimately accountable to the public,” the judge wrote. “When we exercise that power in public fora, we should not expect our actions to be shielded from public observation.”

As I said in this op-ed, and as Clark Neily, Radley Balko and I pointed out in this video, Maryland police officers have used the “expectation of privacy” claim as a tool to deter anyone from recording on-duty police officers. In Anthony Graber’s case, a Maryland state trooper cut off Graber in an unmarked car and emerged from the driver’s side door in jeans and a gray pullover, gun drawn and badge not visible. It looked like a carjacking, and Graber was not charged for recording the encounter until he posted it on YouTube. The message to other Marylanders was clear: record the police, and you will face arrest and felony prosecution.

The prosecutor behind the case against Graber, Joseph Cassilly, spoke on a panel last week at Cato. He made clear that he disagreed with the structure of the Maryland wiretapping law, and was using the case to push the legislature toward a single-party consent wiretap statute. While I agree with a move to a single-party consent law, it is satisfying to see the charges against Anthony Graber reduced to the traffic violations that instigated the encounter in the first place.

Cops on Camera

The past six months have given us a number of police excesses caught on camera. Police officers savagely beat University of Maryland student John McKenna and filed false felony assault charges against him. Video of the event set the record straight. Prosecutors dropped the charges against McKenna, and four officers have been suspended and are facing state and federal investigations.

The McKenna case showed the value of video as an honest witness. Yet Maryland police officers continue to make the claim that the state wiretapping law forbids recording in public. I discuss this issue in a new Cato video, Cops on Camera, along with attorney Clark Neily of the Institute for Justice and Cato adjunct scholar Radley Balko.

We are hosting an event next Wednesday, September 22, on the right of citizens to record on-duty police, and the prosecutor in the high-profile Maryland wiretapping case against Anthony Graber will be on the panel. Registration available here.