Police v. Smartphones: A Fight Worth Fighting?

In the old days, police and journalists worked together, each being somewhat dependent upon the other. At a crime, we police could say to a photojournalist, “Hey, would you please not take a photo of this?” Cooperation was important to both sides. Sure, there were tensions between competing interests, but for the most part, they got worked out if not on the street in the offices of police departments and newspapers.

Today, all that has changed. Everyman can be a news photographer and journalist. And Everyman is not beholden to the police for photo opportunities or news tips.

So now everything has changed and the basic issue is this: can a citizen in a public place who is to interfering with the police be arrested for recording a video of the event?

You don’t have to be civil rights lawyer to figure this one out. The answer is yes.

And the reason why police don’t want a recording of the incident is…?

Come on, officers, this is not a fight worth fighting. Do your job and be thankful someone may have recorded something that may be to your benefit in the future.

Renee Stutzman of the Orlando Sentinel recently captured the dispute:

“You’re walking down the sidewalk and see police officers making an arrest. They’re using force, and the man they’re arresting is protesting. You pull out your cellphone and start recording.

“An officer orders you to stop, says you’re breaking the law. He demands that you hand over your phone.

“What should you do? Are you breaking the law?

“No, according to local lawyers, as long as you were in a public place and not interfering with the officer or his investigation.

“‘You have an absolute right to videotape an officer or anyone else on the street,’ said Howard Marks, an Orlando attorney who specializes in civil-rights cases. ‘Law-enforcement officers don’t like being taped. That’s tough luck.’

“The issue has become a growing civil-rights dispute, the result of smartphone proliferation.

“It has transformed a dispute that used to involve a relatively small number of people — news photographers — into one that has the potential to put cops at odds with any bystander with a cellphone.

“It has prompted arrests, disputes and lawsuits across the country, including:

•Rochester, N.Y., where a woman was arrested after she began video-recording a traffic stop while standing in her yard.

•Baltimore, where officers seized a man’s phone after he recorded video of his friend’s arrest. When it was returned moments later, the video had been deleted.

•Newark, N.J., where a high-school girl was arrested after video-recording officers responding to an incident on a transit bus.

[For the rest of her article CLICK HERE]

 She goes on to conclude in her report, “The Orlando Police Department, Orange County Sheriff’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement all advise officers that, when they’re in public, citizens have a right to video-record them.

“But the lines get blurry about whether an officer has a right to seize the phone or camera of someone recording officers at work.

“If the officer thinks it contains evidence of a crime and there’s a danger that the evidence is about to be destroyed, he or she should seize and hold it, according to an OPD training bulletin from November.