Cmdr. Mike Parker 2016-02-26 00:04:34
Photography and the recording of video or audio are common activities and are neither crimes nor indications of criminal activity in and of themselves. Neither photography nor the recording of video or audio, standing alone, can form the basis for a detention, arrest, or warrantless search. The professionalism of peace officers is now being openly tested, scrutinized, and recorded on smartphones and cameras, then immediately shared online. Meanwhile, the U.S. Constitution and the case law interpreting it continue to declare that the public has a right to film cops. Many photographers are just doing their jobs, but some people with cameras also taunt and bait officers into a reaction. As a result, they are becoming unwelcome YouTube stars, often due to a lack of training or a loss of patience. Of course, a person carrying a camera cannot do whatever he or she wants. The limits mostly have to do with interfering with the officer’s duties. Yet, interfering must be more than just annoying an officer. Policy and training will help ensure that the rights of the public and of peace officers are honored. In a 2012 statement of interest in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice outlines key provisions that every agency’s policy and training should include regarding the recording of police activity. Policies should: • Affirmatively set forth the First Amendment right to record police activity. • Describe the range of prohibited responses to individuals observing or recording the police. • Clearly describe when an individual’s actions amount to interference with police duties. • Provide clear guidance on supervisory review. • Describe when it is permissible to seize recordings and recording devices. • Not place a higher burden on individuals to exercise their right to record police activity than they place on members of the press. Using the provisions noted in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) implemented a new policy that more clearly informed employees what to do, not just what not to do. The process included: executive oversight, a review of existing policy at LASD and other agencies, case law, inclusion of key elements of federal statute 42 U.S.C. Section 2000aa-6 (seizing evidence), consultation with an LASD constitutional policing adviser, dialogue with employee representative unions, and providing the unions with source material. Discussions with the National Press Photographers Association proved particularly helpful. Tips to share with deputies before filming makes them "stars": Don’t mention the camera. It’s not relevant. Besides, whether you see a camera or not, you are probably being filmed. If a person without a camera was standing in the same place or doing the same thing as the person with a camera, would he be breaking the law? If not, make a polite comment or leave the person alone. Explain why the person needs to stop any improper or unsafe action. “I don’t want you to get hit by a car,” or “You are blocking me from getting out of the street, and neither of us wants to get hit by a car.” You therefore sound reasonable and professional, while the cameraperson seems reckless and irresponsible. You are expected to be patient and act with restraint. Today is the day you are tested, and, like it or not, you represent all cops. Saying “Get back” repeatedly isn’t enough. Be specific, and tell the person where he can stand. “Time, place, and manner” are legal standards. Exigent circumstances can provide some forgiveness in this, but you being irritated doesn’t make it an emergency. Allowing people without cameras to stand closer than people with cameras is wrong. If you do this, we will see you on YouTube. Expect to encounter baiters. Be calm and cool. Their attitude makes them—not you—look bad on film. Be a great partner. A hand on a shoulder or a few words at the right moment has saved many deputies from mistakes made in frustration. The video of you will be posted online, often without context or with incorrect information. The worse it looks, the more it will get shared. Videotape the videographers, but do it with professionalism. Repeatedly brief and train on your policy, and share internally the latest videos of officers who set examples, bad or good. Persuade, rather than command, the public—including photographers—to cooperate. Whatever you do, try to muster up a smile. You look better on film that way. Mike Parker is commander of the personnel and training command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A 31-year veteran of the department, Parker has presented at more than 50 major policing conferences and to law enforcement from 30-plus countries. He has published more than 100 articles on communications, social media, community policing, and problem-solving. In 2012, he received the Federal Emergency Management Agency Community Preparedness Heroes Award, and in 2013, he received the White House Champions of Change Award.
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