Posts tagged with: police

This week’s Acton Commentary from Rev. Gregory Jensen, “Finding the Balance: Privacy and the Civil Society,” is a thoughtful reflection on the place of privacy in our modern life.

I have recently made the claim that public persons, such as police officers and politicians, have a somewhat different claim to privacy than private persons.

This was especially in the context of controversy over the legality of videorecording police officers while on the job. Gizmodo follows up on a previous item (discussed here) with another one, linking to a Popular Mechanics article in which “Glenn Harlan Reynolds notes that mall cops may have a legal basis for asking you to put your camera away, public property (such as any sidewalk, street, or municipal area) is always fair game.”

The current situation is, apart from the special kinds of state-level legislation discussed in the previous post, that “Legally, it’s pretty much always okay to take photos in a public place as long as you’re not physically interfering with traffic or police operations.”

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, June 28, 2010

Gizmodo has an intriguing post about attempts to regulate and even criminalize photography. As Wendy McIlroy reports, “In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.” She goes on to detail some of the exceptions and caveats, noting,

The legal justification for arresting the “shooter” rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where “no expectation of privacy exists” (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.

It is simply amazing the level of accountability and transparency that can now be achieved because of technological advancement. Certainly the Founders didn’t imagine that video recordings would ever exist, much less become important sources of evidence in legal cases.

Are there any compelling reasons that the burden of proof should be on the photographer rather than the law enforcement officer in these kinds of situations? McIlroy continues, observing “recordings that are flattering to the police – an officer kissing a baby or rescuing a dog – will almost certainly not result in prosecution even if they are done without all-party consent. The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent.”

Merely using a camera certainly doesn’t entitle you to do anything you want and expect protection under the First Amendment. But in clearly non-aggressive instances, where police are acting in public and there is the clear potential for recorded data to be used as exculpatory or convicting evidence, the public’s right to accountability and transparency should be respected. Again, writes McIlroy, “Cameras have become the most effective weapon that ordinary people have to protect against and to expose police abuse. And the police want it to stop.”

It’s of course understandable why officers wouldn’t like being recorded, any more than the average person would like to be recorded when doing their jobs. But the job of a law enforcement official isn’t the same as that of an accountant, an editor, or a janitor. It’s a public service position, and one that acts officially and with government sanction in public.

Maybe in our technological age law enforcement officials should increasingly expect to be recorded. Or at least always act as if what they are doing is subject to public scrutiny.

The nation’s news outlets picked up the story quickly last week out of downtown Los Angeles, where an immigration rally at MacArthur Park sparked a violent police reaction.

The LAPD police chief, William J. Bratton, was quick to express his displeasure. “Quite frankly, I was disturbed at what I saw,” Bratton told KNX-AM. He said the actions of some officers “were inappropriate in terms of use of batons and possible use of nonlethal rounds fired.”

It looks from reports like the rally turned ugly when protesters moved out of the confines of the park and into the streets. Rally organizers contend that the violence was initiated by a group of “anarchists” not affiliated with the rally itself.

Bratton agreed and said police were initially trying to deal with 50 to 100 “agitators.”

“The individuals were there to provoke police,” Bratton said. “Unfortunately, they got what they came for.” The New York Times also provides a lengthy summary piece of the event, which was organized around “a call for broad changes to immigration laws.”

For a period in the 1980s, I lived less than a block from MacArthur Park, at an apartment building named the Park Wilshire (You can see the proximity to MacArthur Park here). When I lived there, the park was not very family-friendly. There was a lot of violence, including gang and drug activities. It wasn’t a safe neighborhood by any stretch.

Obviously it’s been many years, and perhaps the area has changed. But if it’s anything like it was then, MacArthur Park is a pretty bad choice for place to hold a rally. No doubt the police over-reaction was at least in some small part related to the negative associations connected to the rally’s location. I’m also willing to bet that the “anarchists” and “agitators” didn’t have to travel far to enact some payback against the police, and were able to use the rally as cover.

Unfortunately the real victims of their violence were the innocents at the rally, the women and children who were put in danger, and the members of the media who were beaten and hurt. But there may well be victims beyond the rally itself, if the violence becomes an occasion for fostering more anti-immigrant sentiment in the US.

The NYT editorialized last week about the potential for a new immigration bill that would “eliminate or severely restrict whole categories of family-based immigration in favor of a system that would assign potential immigrants points based on age, skills, education, income and other factors.”

Family concerns are a huge factor motivating illegal immigration. The story of Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Alfredo Quinones-Hinjosa relates this fact. Dr. Quinones-Hinjosa admits that there is no justification for his entry into the US as an illegal immigrant twenty years ago.

“When I first came, I wasn’t thinking that I was breaking the law by coming to this country. All I wanted to do is have enough money to eat, period. That’s all that I had in my mind, is that how can I make money so that I can at least put food on the table of my parents, my siblings, and my future children,” said Quinones-Hinjosa.

His story is one well worth reflecting on as our nation debates the issues surrounding immigration policy and enforcement.