Video Tapping the Police
Radley Balko gives a very nice argument as to why we should be able to video tape, photograph and otherwise keep tabs on what the police are doing, while acting in an official capacity.
As noted, police are public servants, paid with taxpayer dollars. Not only that, but they’re given extraordinary power and authority we don’t give to other public servants: They’re armed; they can make arrests; they’re allowed to break the very laws they’re 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.
It’s critical that we retain the right to record, videotape or photograph the police while they’re on duty. Not only for symbolic reasons (when agents of the state can confiscate evidence of their own wrongdoing, you’re treading on seriously perilous ground), but as an important check on police excesses. In the age of YouTube, video of police misconduct captured
by private citizens can have an enormous impact.
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 they’re on duty.
This isn’t to say police don’t have the same privacy rights as everyone else. They do — when they aren’t on duty, in possession of a sidearm and carrying with them the authority that
comes with enforcing the law of the state.
But while they’re on duty, they serve the public. And the public, their employer, should have
every right to keep them accountable.
Balko also points to an incident that happened in my part of the country. The shooting of Elio Carrion, and Iraq War veteran. Carrion was a passenger, unwilling, in a high speed chase. When the driver crashed the car Carrion, according to video footage, complied with the officer at all times. When Carrion he was shot when rising from the ground on orders from the San Bernardino Sherrif’s Deputy Ivory Web. To be quite clear, if this tape didn’t exist it is unlikely that Webb would have been fired, charged with a crime, and allowed to continue to carry a gun and a badge. This tape was not handed over to the San Bernardino’s Sheriff’s department, but was instead sent to a local news channel.
Making the video taping, photographing and so forth of police officers illegal would indeed be a very bad move. Unfortunately, I think that this will probably get worse.