Fw: [A-C] Videotaping The Police
- Subject: [A-C] Videotaping The Police
Videotaping The Police
Tuesday June 19th 2007
By; Radley Balko
Last month,Brian Kelly of Carlisle Pa,was riding with a friend when the
car he was in was pulled over by a local police officer.Kelly,a amateur
videographer,had his video camera with him and decided to record the
The officer who pulled over the vehicle saw the camera and demanded
Kelly hand it over.Kelly obliged.Soon after,6 more police officers pulled
up.They arrested Kelly on charges of violating an outdated Pennsyl-
vania wiretapping law that forbids audio recordings of any 2nd party
without their permission.
In this case,that party was the police officer.Kelly was charged with
a felony,spent 26 hours in jail,and faces up to 10 years in prison.
All for merely recording a police officer,a public servant,while he
was on the job.
Theres been a rash of arrests as of late for videotaping police,and
it is a disturbing development.Last year,Massachusetts Attorney
General Tom Reilly threatened Internet activist Mary T. Jean with
arrest & felony prosecution for posting a video to her site of state
police swarming a home & arresting a man without warrant.
Michael Gannon of New Hampshire was also arrested on felony
wiretapping charges last year after recording a police officer who
was being verbally abusive on his doorstep.
Photojournalist Carlos Miller was arrested in February of this year
after taking pictures of on-duty police officers in Miami.
And Philadelphia student Neftaly Cruz was arrested last year after
he took pictures of a drug bust with his cell phone.
As noted,police are public servants,paid with taxpayer dollars.Not
only that,but their given extraordinary power and authority we dont
give to other public servants: Their armed; they can make arrests;
their allowed to break the very laws their paid to enforce; they can
use lethal force for reasons other than self-defense; and,of course,
the police are permitted to videotape us without our consent.
Its critical that we retain the right to record,videotape or photograph
the police while their on duty.Not only for symbolic reasons (when
agents of the state can confiscate evidence of their own wrongdoing,
your treading on perilous ground),but as a check on police excess-
es.In the age of YouTube video of police misconduct captured by
private citizens can have an enormous impact.
Consider Eugene Siler.In 2005,the Campbell County Tenn,man was
confronted by five sheriffs deputies who (they say) suspected him of
drug activity.Silers wife surreptitiously switched on a tape recorder
when the police officers came inside.
Over the next hour,Siler was mercilessly beaten and tortured by the
officers,who were demanding he confess to drug activity.Siler was
poor,illiterate and had a nonviolent criminal record.Without that re-
cording,its unlikely anyone would have believed his account of the
torture over the word of five sheriffs deputies.
Earlier this year,Iraq war veteran Elio Carrion was shot three times
at near-point-blank range by San Bernardino Calif,deputy Ivory Webb.
Carrion was lying on the ground and was unarmed.Video of the arrest
and shooting,however,was captured by bystander Jose Louis Valdez.
Webb since has been fired from the police department & is on trial on
charges of attempted voluntary manslaughter and assault with a fire-
arm.The video is the key piece of evidence in his trial.
While its possible that police and prosecutors would have believed
Carrions version of events over Webb's even without the video,it
seems unlikely.Webb is the first officer to be indicted in the his-
tory of the San Bernardino Police Dept.
These are merely recent examples.There are more.
Many police depts across the country recently have added roof-
mounted cameras to patrol cars that record traffic all stops.
This is a positive development,and protects not just citizens from
rogue cops,but cops from citizens who make frivolous complaints.
I've argued in the past that other police activities should be recorded,
particularly SWAT-style raids that involve forced entry into private
But it shouldnt end there.Legislators need to repeal laws explicitly
forbidding the recording,photographing or videotaping of police
officers.And to the extent that more generalized wiretapping laws
meant for the general public also apply to the police,they should
be amended to allow private citizens to record officers while their
This isnt to say police dont have the same privacy rights as
everyone else.They do - when they arent on duty,in poss-
ession of a sidearm and carrying with them the authority
that comes with enforcing the law of the state.
But while their on duty,they serve the public,& the public,their
employer,should have every right to keep them accountable.
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