Saturday, August 18, 2012

Is it a felony to video police in public?

Originally posted 08/01/2011 on lubbockonline.com

On alternet.org Rania Khalek reports on the increasing number of people being charged with crimes for shooting video of on duty police in public places. This is becoming more common as cell phones with video cameras are the norm.

The article covers several episodes from recent years, some you've probably heard of, some you may not have. One of the most recent was the case of Narces Benoit, the man who saved his phones memory card from police confiscation by putting it in his mouth. The video showed both police shooting a suspect and pointing guns at Mr. Benoit to confiscate his cell phone.

Several laws have been used in attempts to justify police confiscating cell phones used to video them. From privacy laws to wiretapping laws, citizens have found themselves charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanors to class one felonies for shooting video of on duty police in public places. Many of those cases were of police doing things they shouldn't have. Many more cases were probably of police doing their jobs properly, but those don't make headlines. The point is, the police are public employees and supposed to protect the rights of citizens. While on duty and in public places (and maybe some private places) they should have no expectation of privacy and every expectation that they could be photographed or videoed.

Is it a felony to video police in public? It shouldn't be, but at this point the courts have come down on both sides of this question. Most cases have been dismissed, but a few people have been convicted. Whether or not you are committing a felony by recording police performing their duties in public can depend on where you are and what judge you draw. In the end it will be the pressure we put on our congressmen to write laws addressing this issue, or a decision by the Supreme Court that will decide if we can legally take video of police performing their duties in public.

Contact your senators and representatives and let them know citizens should not be harrassed for taking pictures or video of policemen doing their duty in public.

Thank you Ian Williams for pointing out that if I'm going to ask a question like that I need to provide an answer.