Finally! D.C. Police Announce a Sensible And Reasonable Cell Phone and Camera Policy
I’ve written a number of articles about how the police and other law enforcement agencies, both in the US and abroad, have been interfering with and hassling photographers and videographers who are only trying to document a scene that’s in front of them. There have been multiple instances of people in power (such as Obama himself) saying that this is unconstitutional. And finally, it would seem, one police department has begun to realize that.
DCist, a Washington DC-area news website, was the first to report on a new legal directive in which DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier explains the constitutional rights of DC citizens. In the directive, Lanier instructs her officers with detailed directions and makes respecting them a priority. The directive, which can be seen here, also contains a number of case-study scenarios which have led to trouble of this sort in the last few years, and how they should be dealt with.
The first and second sections of the document clearly spells out the fact that members of the public have the right to record police officers through various mediums.
“The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) recognizes that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to video record, photograph, and/or audio record MPD members while MPD members are conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity.”
“A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media”
“If a person is taking photographs or recording from a place where he or she has a right to be, members are reminded that this activity by itself does not constitute suspicious conduct.”
“A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media, as long as the bystander has a legal right to be present where he or she is located.”
The above quoted is great and all, but where it gets really interesting is in the second section of the document, where the law is stated explicitly:
“As long as the photographing or recording takes place in a setting at which the individual has a legal right to be present and does not interfere with a member’s safety, members shall not inform or instruct people that photographing or recording of police officers, police activity or individuals who are the subject of police action (such as a Terry stop or an arrest) is not allowed; requires a permit; or requires the member’s consent. Additionally, members shall not:
1. Order that person to cease such activity;
2. Demand that person’s identification;
3. Demand that the person state a reason why he or she is taking
photographs or recording;
4. Detain that person;
5. Intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices; or
6. In any way threaten, intimidate or otherwise discourage an individual
from recording members’ enforcement activities.”
At long last! It looks like amateur and professional photographers and videographs alike are gaining some ground in the uphill battle for respect from public officials. Hopefully, many other police stations and chiefs around the country (and world, for that matter, as this is not an issue for only the United States) will see the positive results from this mandate and follow suit.
Oh yeah. I almost forgot. The icing on the cake? They can’t ask or demand that content be deleted. Lanier states that officers “shall not, under any circumstances, erase or delete, or instruct or require any other person to erase or delete, any recorded images or sounds from any camera or other recording device. [Officers] shall maintain cameras and other recording devices that are in Department custody so that they can be returned to the owner intact with all images or recordings undisturbed.”