I was watching “Stossel” on the Fox Business Channel recently. Hosted by investigative reporter John Stossel, the show’s theme “Privacy Or Secrecy” looked at issues relating to the perception society’s losing their rights to privacy. From smartphone technology tracking your every move and data mining of personal information from Internet sites, to a movement making the personal information public about legal gun owners. The segment, “Who Watches The Watchmen” caught my eye because it dealt with the subject of whether it should be illegal for citizens to record cops — in public.
The debate over filming/recording cops in the performance of their duties has raged for decades and it’s reaching a fever pitch thanks to cell phone and pint-sized digital cameras — and the ease of immediately posting images onto the internet. So what’s the big deal? Are cameras now considered the new, great equalizers?
Aren’t we known for saying, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, what are you worried about?” This same mentality should also apply to us. If we’re doing our job professionally and within the law, what’ve we got to worry about if someone’s filming us — especially if they’re doing so without getting in our way? If we decide we don’t like being filmed and take our attention away from what we’re doing, we are the ones delaying ourselves, not the person filming us. If the person is making snide comments, ignore it unless the comments are inciting a riot, but there again it will all be caught on film, right?
Should we ever expect to have a right to privacy when we’re in public? I don’t think so; cops are public employees. We can record comments and statements made by suspects/arrestees sitting in the back of our police cars where there’s no expectation of privacy. Thus, there should be an even lower standard of privacy outside the police car. We routinely record and surveil citizens without their permission, so why should there be a separate set of rules regarding them recording or filming us? If a bad guy doesn’t have to consent to being filmed, cops shouldn’t either. Should Internal Affairs be required to get consent to film or record from a cop suspected of criminal or unprofessional conduct?
It’s my understanding wiretapping laws are being applied to such cases where citizens have been arrested for taping officers in the course of their duties. Some states, (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia) are “2-party consent” states, meaning both (or all) parties must consent before taping. Should this then make all cop surveillance taboo? How slippery of a slope does this need to be?
Law enforcement has been using dash-cams for years, and now recording devices are worn on an officer’s uniform — think TASER’s AXON or EHS’ VIDMIC. I don’t know of any statutes declaring only the police are allowed to collect evidence and that’s the purpose behind these devices. They’re also used to mitigate liability in the event of a misconduct allegation, but it’s still evidence. What’s really disturbing is the officers who appear to be misbehaving are the ones reacting in outrage they’re being videotaped. Perhaps there’s a lesson here?
I think back at the number of times I was made aware I was being taped and I can’t recall ever giving a rat’s ass about it. I was also never hauled into IA to watch a video of me misbehaving either. So maybe those of us getting our skirts up over our heads about this should take a long hard look in the mirror before crying foul.
The reality is, cops have very public jobs, like it or not. We’re expected to behave professionally even when faced with overwhelming challenges. The public generally knows we’ve got a tough job, but no one is forcing us to do it. Some people have an axe to grind with police tactics, there’s no changing this mindset, and they’ll do their best to catch us making mistakes, misbehaving, abusing our authority or losing control. It happens sometimes to the best of us. It’s best to admit our mistakes and take our lumps.
Look at any of the silly reality cop shows on TV these days. Please tell me how dragging around a film crew is any different than what the average citizen is doing. Recording with high-end, professional cameras nets the same results as some guy with an iPhone or pocket video recorder. It’s not reasonable to believe documenting police activity is only acceptable when it makes you look good. Celebrities put up with all the photographing and videotaping associated with their careers — even when they may look like hell — but it’s all part of their very public lives. Cops need to understand we’re not much different.
“Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time,” was a favorite saying of a TV show cop (Baretta) from the 1970s. I think it’s still valid today.
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