Would you video record the police?

  • #1
ZombieFeynman
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Often times a police officer's work is difficult. Sometimes it is even very dangerous. However, there is evidence to suggest many police interactions with the public involve the excessive use of force.

From wikipedia:

An extensive report prepared for the United Nations Human Rights Committee tabled in 2006 states that in the United States, the "War on Terror" has "created a generalized climate of impunity for law enforcement officers, and contributed to the erosion of what few accountability mechanisms exist for civilian control over law enforcement agencies. As a result, police brutality and abuse persist unabated and undeterred across the country."

The report can be found here.

Many citizens have begun to video record their own encounters with the police, as well as police encounters with other citizens. Such a practice has been upheld as legal in nearly every state, so long as the recording is not done secretively. In several instances this recording has resulted in officers being disciplined as a result of their actions on the recording.

I respect police who take their job to protect and serve the public seriously. I think that some people needlessly tape police doing what is otherwise routine duty. But I think that greater police accountability to the public would help to restore confidence in our justice system that some may have lost.

What do you think?
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
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I can't fathom any good reason why the police need to be informed that they're being recorded.
 
  • #3
ZombieFeynman
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I can't fathom any good reason why the police need to be informed that they're being recorded.

In some instances, secretive recording may violate state wiretapping law.
 
  • #4
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In some instances, secretive recording may violate state wiretapping law.

There's a huge difference between videotaping someone in public and wiretapping. Wiretapping means you're monitoring someone's entire telephone conversation. To group videotaping in public and wiretapping seems like a deliberate attempt to make police not have to be held accountable for their actions.
 
  • #5
Pythagorean
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In some instances, secretive recording may violate state wiretapping law.

I found this, researching your statement:

Massachusetts is the only state to uphold a conviction for recording on-duty police, but that conviction was for a secret recording where the defendant failed to inform police he was recording. (As in the Glik case, Massachusetts courts have ruled that openly recording police is legal, but secretly recording them isn’t.)

I can't attest to the credibility of reason.com, but just to advance the discusison...

http://reason.com/archives/2012/04/05/7-rules-for-recording-police/1

There's a bit of conundrum here, because if you make yourself too noticeable, you could technically be arrested for "interfering".

More to the OP:

When given authority, there will always be people that abuse it. There's an interesting paper that was written about this recently that concludes that people with a weak moral identity are more likely to allow power to corrupt them:

Abstract: Does power corrupt a moral identity, or does it enable a moral identity to emerge? Drawing from the power literature, we propose that the psychological experience of power, although often associated with promoting self-interest, is associated with greater self-interest only in the presence of a weak moral identity. Furthermore, we propose that the psychological experience of power is associated with less self-interest in the presence of a strong moral identity. Across a field survey of working adults and in a lab experiment, individuals with a strong moral identity were less likely to act in self-interest, yet individuals with a weak moral identity were more likely to act in self-interest, when subjectively experiencing power. Finally, we predict and demonstrate an explanatory mechanism behind this effect: The psychological experience of power enhances moral awareness among those with a strong moral identity, yet decreases the moral awareness among those with a weak moral identity. In turn, individuals' moral awareness affects how they behave in relation to their self-interest.
http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/apl/97/3/681/ [Broken]
 
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  • #6
nsaspook
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I respect police who take their job to protect and serve the public seriously. I think that some people needlessly tape police doing what is otherwise routine duty. But I think that greater police accountability to the public would help to restore confidence in our justice system that some may have lost.

What do you think?

They have cameras recording the public, we have cameras recording them. As long as it's all done in a public area where there is no expectation of privacy I don't see a problem.

To paraphrase Robert A. Heinlein. "A recorded society is a polite society".
 
  • #7
ZombieFeynman
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There's a huge difference between videotaping someone in public and wiretapping. Wiretapping means you're monitoring someone's entire telephone conversation. To group videotaping in public and wiretapping seems like a deliberate attempt to make police not have to be held accountable for their actions.

I don't disagree with your statements, especially the portion I bolded.

An interesting overview of the Glik case can be found on its wikipedia page.

It seems although he was arrested:

the city reversed its earlier opinion that the officers had done nothing wrong, stating that the officers had shown "unreasonable judgement" by arresting Glik...The Boston Police Department now trains its officers not to arrest people for openly recording them in public.

From what I've read, however, it may be within state law for the Police to arrest you for videotaping them secretively. Whether or not you win an appeal in court won't stop them from arresting you. The word of the law and the spirit of the law do not always overlap.
 
  • #8
CompuChip
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Although I don't live in the US myself, I think that the police there is relatively aggressive compared to for example most police forces in Western Europe. Last time I watched a police show on TV it showed both American cops pulling over a car (with guns out, "step out of the vehicle and lay down on the ground!") and their British colleagues ("Hi mate, could we have a chat?").

I think this difference in approach is partly necessary because the crime is much more violent as well, but I guess it also makes it easier to unnecessarily cross a line (for various reasons). Especially in this setting it is important to have rules that not only protect the safety of the police officers but also that of (relatively) innocent citizens. I think capturing their actions on tape will help enforce this safety as they are likely to be more aware of what they are doing. In those rare cases where crossing the line is required, there will always be a legal system to decide in retrospect whether the actions were correct, and having video evidence will probably also be more beneficial than harmful there.

And finally, if I may quote the argument that the government also uses against us in order to put up public cameras and tap our phones: the big majority of the law enforcement people that take their job and its restrictions seriously have nothing to be afraid of.
 
  • #9
Borg
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Interestingly, this story was running on the local news last night - Laurel Police Tout Personal Wear Cameras as Effective Crime-Fighting Tool. In a way, it's just an extension of the dashboard cameras that most police cars already have. However, I think that I would have to question their motives if they asked me to turn off my recording device while they left theirs on. Police often release video to the news media and I would have to suspect that I was in for some interesting post-incident editing in that case. Should society allow the police to obtain evidence that citizens cannot? After all, shouldn't a citizen be allowed to release their video to the news media? I get it that people shouldn't have an expectation of privacy in public but, by the same right, neither should the police.

BTW, not once in the video do I remember the police informing the woman that she was being recorded. From her viewpoint, she probably only saw a bright light coming from the direction of his head. Would this qualify as secretly recording someone if a reasonable person wouldn't have known in their circumstances?
 
  • #10
nsaspook
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Part of the problem (in the US) has been the 'militarization' of the police force. This has warped the "public servant, we protect the citizens rights" training for recruits into a "us vs them" mentality where everyone who is not a cop is a potential enemy. When a camera is seen by some (a very small percentage but they make the news) they just don't see it as a person exercising rights, it's seen as a possible threat to current operations that must be stopped.
 
  • #11
WannabeNewton
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In NYC, there's this "Stop and Frisk" law that allows police officers to randomly stop and body search people who they think looks "suspect". Overwhelming statistics have come out over the years showing that it has been used as a way of racial profiling against blacks and hispanics.

I was in Flushing (NYC) a few months back, and a hispanic boy at a local HS was randomly stopped for no reason and searched by a cop and when the boy resisted, asking for a reason for why he was being searched, he was pushed to the ground, beaten slightly and then arrested. It so happened that one of his friends recorded the whole thing on his phone because I later saw it on youtube. I don't know what happened to that cop but I'm guessing nothing because they always get away with this kind of crap Scott-free. Still, videotaping has its uses because it sheds light on this kind of tyranny. I've never talked to a cop in my entire life nor do I have any desire to talk to one, so I can't say anything personally about them.
 
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  • #12
Pythagorean
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Part of the problem (in the US) has been the 'militarization' of the police force. This has warped the "public servant, we protect the citizens rights" training for recruits into a "us vs them" mentality where everyone who is not a cop is a potential enemy. When a camera is seen by some (a very small percentage but they make the news) they just don't see it as a person exercising rights, it's seen as a possible threat to current operations that must be stopped.

The supreme court actually ruled that police do not have a duty to protect and serve:

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/28scotus.html?_r=0

Of course, still, we should record them to make sure they don't break laws (which seems to happen frequently now that everyone has cameras on their phone).
 
  • #13
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What possible conceivable reason would you have to not video tape encounters with police officers, where possible? They are servants of the community, the community does not serve them. They are there to enforce the law, not to demand obedience from people.

If the police are doing nothing wrong, there's no harm in filming the encounter for both your and their protection. If laws or rights are violated, then there's documented evidence of it which is invaluable in any results court case.

It's obvious why you would record police, and you have a legal right to. Most people are afraid of the cops, but unless you're violating the law, then the police really should be afraid of you, because that's who they work for.
 
  • #14
Choppy
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I have experience in law enforcement. I held an auxilary officer position as a worked my way through graduate school.

The first thing I would point out is that most police forces in north america (well in Canada and the US, I can't speak for Mexico) are training their officers to assume that they're on camera from the moment they get to work to the moment they go home... and not just on camera, but on camera that's going to be played before a judge/jury. Working in law enforcement means working in a fishbowl. Anyone who can't accept this, shouldn't be a police officer.

Secondly, it's important to think about what you are doing when recording and interaction with the police and how you are doing it. Recording an interaction can come accross as an overt challenge. It may broadcast the message that you're expecting something to go wrong, or that you are going to nit-pick every little thing this officer does. That may not actually be your intention. But it can come across that way. And even though you are doing something that's within your legal rights, it's important to think about the tone you're setting for the interaction.

Consider for a moment doing the same thing to a waitress at a restaraunt. She comes to take your order and instantly your friends hold out their phones and start recording. There's a good chance that will make her nervous and uncomfortable and that is likely going to have an influence on the level of service you can expect.

Consider also the simple act of reaching into your pocket to pull something out as a police officer approaches. Sure it may only be a cell phone, but it will take a moment for the officer to realize that. And even if he or she consciously does, on a sub-conscious level, you could have already broadcast a threat.

I'm not saying you should avoid recording interactions with the police. In fact, I'm pretty sure that we're not too far away from a time when every moment in our lives is recorded in one way or another. But it certainly helps everyone to be as cooperative as possible.
 
  • #15
ZombieFeynman
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Consider for a moment doing the same thing to a waitress at a restaraunt. She comes to take your order and instantly your friends hold out their phones and start recording. There's a good chance that will make her nervous and uncomfortable and that is likely going to have an influence on the level of service you can expect.

I agree with the spirit of most of your post, but in the above are we seriously supposed to buy this analogy? Are you suggesting that a waitress has a similar level of accountability to the public as a police officer?
 
  • #16
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I have to admit, most of the cops I met were pretty nice. Maybe one or two jerks. I dont see why filming them is a problem but I can also see it being intrusive.
 
  • #17
ZombieFeynman
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I have to admit, most of the cops I met were pretty nice.

Nearly every police officer I've interacted with has been professional in their duty.
 
  • #18
Borg
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I agree with the spirit of most of your post, but in the above are we seriously supposed to buy this analogy? Are you suggesting that a waitress has a similar level of accountability to the public as a police officer?
He was talking about how being videotaped would make anyone nervous and gave a good example of someone who wouldn't normally be videotaped. At what point was it suggested that the phones were pulled out in order to hold the waitress accountable?
 
  • #19
Dotini
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We pay enormous taxes to support police and fire departments. Pretty much everything they do should be a matter of public record. Video technology is out there, and people will use it. It should be perfectly okay to videotape most police activities, with a few exceptions. For instance, there should be no live broadcast of pursuits or sieges of armed suspects, in order that the suspect or accomplices not be alerted to police operational tactics. But the citizen must be careful, as most police officers by nature are large, strong men unafraid to use force. It's one thing to hold the high moral ground, but quite another to lose your teeth and eyeglasses.

Perhaps it would be a moot issue if police wore mandatory cameras.

But SF fire I guess is taking away mandatory cameras due to fear of lawsuits. They ran over a girl hidden under the foam of the burning plane.
 
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  • #20
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You don't have to film something in an aggressive or accusing way, a simple statement that "I'm going to begin recording" is fine. And if that makes the police officer uncomfortable, then really that's too bad for them... your right to defend yourself in court and bear evidence on any legal dispute trumps their getting weirded out by the camera.
 
  • #21
russ_watters
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Although I don't live in the US myself, I think that the police there is relatively aggressive compared to for example most police forces in Western Europe. Last time I watched a police show on TV it showed both American cops pulling over a car (with guns out, "step out of the vehicle and lay down on the ground!") and their British colleagues ("Hi mate, could we have a chat?").

I think this difference in approach is partly necessary because the crime is much more violent as well, but I guess it also makes it easier to unnecessarily cross a line (for various reasons).
Makes me sad to see such a bad characterization of the US:
1. TV? Really? What you describe bears no resemblance to ordinary interactions with the police, such as traffic stops:
2. On TV, they tend to show cops working in pairs because you can't have a cop talking to himself in a TV show. It would just be too weird. The reality is that most work alone.
3. Rules of engagement require a potential threat be present before taking out a weapon. They do not draw weapons in broad situations, for prudence. For example, they do not draw weapons for ordinary traffic stops.
4. Averages are not very useful. Yes, the US has a higher murder rate than any other Western country, but it is a big country and a tourist visiting is not going to go to a place with a high murder rate. And most big cities have such areas, even in relatively low murder rate countries.
 
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  • #22
Chronos
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There are cops who don't like being filmed. That does not make them 'bad' cops. Selective video clips can misrepresent what actually happened. Not seeing the part where the suspect attempts to seize a gun is prejudicial when you only see the part where the guy is slammed to the ground with a knee on his throat.
 
  • #23
UltrafastPED
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Ha ha ... a friend of mine was in a traffic stop a few years ago; the two sheriff's deputies had a video cam in their car. After they took his license they did a computer lookup and discovered that he had been arrested a few years before in an "anti-abortion protest" - a church group standing in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic.

The cops on scene called for backup (it was two women, IIRC). When the backup arrived, all of the video recorders were turned off. Then the two big bruisers that were the "backup" grabbed my friend, and broke his arm (radius and ulna). He was then "detained" - not arrested - and taken to the county jail for "further questions".

When he got their, and was being processed in one of the desk sargents had an USMC (marine corps) insignia - so my friend mentioned that he had been in the marines during the Vietnam war - my friend was almost 50 at the time of this incident. The sargent said that he didn't understand why a fellow marine was being brought in "for additional questioning" concerning a traffic stop - remember, there was no arrest. So after a bit (and some first aid) he was released, and he called another friend to pick him up.

After getting his arm taken care of he visited the county prosecutor to discuss "police brutality" - the prosecutor said that such an inquiry would go nowhere because "there were no witnesses". "No witnesses? There were four cops there!". The prosecutor said "That is correct - all four deputies will testify that you fell getting out of your vehicle, and that they took you to the jail for emergency care".

This was 2002/2003. What would have happened if he had had a video camera of his own? I suspect that the deputies would have turned it off prior to breaking his arm.

And the traffic stop? He was issued a warning on a broken tail light. And no, this was not a case of racial profiling - all of the deputies and my friend are all white.

As has been often said: Who will watch the watchers?
 
  • #25
Evo
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Ha ha ... a friend of mine was in a traffic stop a few years ago; the two sheriff's deputies had a video cam in their car. After they took his license they did a computer lookup and discovered that he had been arrested a few years before in an "anti-abortion protest" - a church group standing in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic.
I doubt that they would have been arrested for legally just standing in the proper place where they had a permit. Police aren't known for arresting "church people" that are acting lawfully. It doesn't mean that your friend was violent, just that it's likely they did something wrong and the police at the stop would not have the details, they acted appropriately to call for backup. As for what happened, remember, you only have one side of the story.
 

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