Saturday, December 26, 2009

Standing up for your rights in the face of bullying cops

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Law Enforcement

It’s crucial to remember that police officers are public servants, and as such, they are to be held accountable to the public. One of the best ways one can ensure that any cops who commit misdeeds and crimes of their owns will stand trial is by catching their words and actions on tape. Videotaping cops is perfectly legal; in fact, it is a cherished right. And, most important of all: cops do not have the right to take this right away from you, regardless of whichever phony excuse they use to try and strip you of your camera.

Here is the first-hand account of one such civilian who was able to document cops acting strangely and disproportionately with a videocamera, and then faced pressure from said cops to give his camera away. More people need to respond the way he did: by standing firm and letting the officers know that he was very much aware of his rights.

Today at around 4:00pm I noticed a police car in front of my house, and went out on my porch to see what was going on. As I did, another female officer in another cruiser pulled up as well and started talking to the other cop. I saw that they had pulled over my neighbor and were obviously trying to get him to consent to a search. ( I found out afterwards that they pulled him over for a suspected seatbelt violation; why this requires a vehicle search is beyond me ). Well, my neighbor told the officer that he did not consent to any searches. This apparently wasn't enough for him, so he made him wait about ten minutes for a K9 sheriff to arrive. Obviously this was either a case of profiling or harassment, as a seatbelt violation is not usually reasonable cause for a search and seizure. So, in the interests of making sure his rights weren't violated, I whipped out my video camera. Mind you, I never said a word or went over to the police. I didn't even leave my front porch.

When the K9 Sheriff arrived, he demanded that the four teens in the car get out and stand in the freezing cold while he patted them down and pulled up their pantlegs and opened up their jackets.

After about a minute or two of standing there taping them and watching my neighbor and his friends shiver in the cold, the big bald K9 Sheriff officer(hereafter referred to as 'baldy' since I didn't get his name) shouts from across the street "If you're going to keep on filming me, guess what I'm gonna do. I'm going to come over there and confiscate that camera and keep it for evidence." I said "Evidence of what?" "I'm on my property, I am not interfering. I can photograph whatever I want to from my property." He replied "Take that camera inside or it's gonna be mine and I'm gonna confiscate it.

Just so you know dear reader, it IS NOT against the law to videotape police officers as long as you do not interfere with what they're doing. As long as you stay away from them, you can videotape everything they do. They are allowed to video citizens and we are also allowed to video them. There are MANY cases of police abusing their power in regards to these incidents of citizens videotaping them. And nearly EVERY time they have had to return stolen property and apologize. Sometimes, the offending officers are even fired or suspended.


I continued filming from my porch, not interfering with the officers in any way whatsoever. By now there were 3 patrol units on the scene to deal with a carload of teenagers who had been stopped because the cop said he saw ONE of them not wearing a seatbelt. I thought to myself, man they're either bored to death or not wearing a seatbelt automatically means that you're a drug dealer.

Baldy didn't seem to want to bother with someone who was going to argue back, so he sent over the female officer onto my property to tell me that I would have to give baldy my camera. She walked up and said 'You're going to need to give him that camera.' I replied 'I'm not breaking the law. Anything viewable from the street is legal game to be videotaped. If he wants my camera, he needs to get a warrant. Also, if you don't have a warrant, then you need to leave my property.'

This seemed to work on her a bit, since she didn't try to take my camera from me, but she added 'well, we are going to need that camera eventually for evidence.' as she was walking off my property.

Not wanting to lose my $600 digital camera only to have it 'accidentally' get broken while in the evidence locker, I went inside and opened my blinds and set the camera towards the window while I called the police station to inquire whether what he said was true. The woman who answered the phone made it obvious that she didn't want to bother to get someone in charge, so she made me ask her the question. I informed her that one of their officers just threatened me with theft of property for doing something that was perfectly within my rights. I wanted to know what his commanding officers thought of this kind of behavior from their deputies. The lady put me on hold and then came back and informed me that if the officer told me to stop filming, then I had to stop filming. I reminded her that I was within my rights and wanted to speak to the officer in charge at the station. Suddenly, she told me that she was just a dispatcher and that the real police station was closed for the day. But I would be able to contact them after the holiday weekend. At that she promptly hung up.

Knowing that nothing was going to be accomplished by informing the officers' superiors of his wrongful actions, I grabbed up my camera and went back outside to continue filming. As I did, the officers returned to their cars and left.

Seeing that they had gone, I went over to talk to my neighbor. He was more than happy that I had been present and thanked me profusely. It seems that when the police saw me walking back out with the camera, they told him he could go and quickly left. No incitement was written for the supposed seatbelt infraction.

This is just one example, albeit a clear one, of how documenting a scene can lead to very different results than if the events hadn’t been captured on film. Bullying cops tend to be very similar to any other criminals, in the way that as soon as a light is shone onto their acts, they tend to quiet down and move away at once.

(via The Agitator)