New Policy Hardly Helps

A new Baltimore Police Department policy prohibits police from interfering interfering with civilians who are photographing or videotaping crime scenes or other law enforcement activities.

Technically, this is not a new standard, but an increase in arrests of civilian and professional journalists due to the pervasiveness of camera phones  has created the need to officially update and modernize relevant policies.

Of course, police can still intervene if someone using a camera is “hindering a successful resolution of the police activity,” according to the policy.  The spirit of the law mandates that camera-wielding bystanders should be treated as they would if they were empty-handed.

The policy states, “before taking any police action which would stop a bystander from observing, photographing, or video recording the conduct of police activity, Officer(s) must have observed the bystander committing some act (deemed criminal, such as obstruction, disorderly conduct or interfering with an officer’s lawful duties).”

Officers with the BPD have already found ways around their new rules, however.  Scott Cover was threatened with arrest while videotaping the arrest of a man in downtown Baltimore.

They did not threaten to take his camera, but instead told him that he was loitering and that he needed to move along.  He even told them he new about the new policy, but they did not care.

This raises the issue of excessive police force, especially toward journalists.  There is a fairly long history of police using intimidation and physical coercion to get what they want, and this is simply its next incarnation.

Policies, including training, like the one BPD has implemented are definitely a step in the right direction, but it will take some high profile court cases and lots of unconstitutional arrests before this problem will be behind us.

So, what are the best ways for amateur and professional photo/videographers to stay out of handcuffs?  Should police officers who violate the 1st Amendment be subject to increasingly harsh penalties?

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5 Comments on “New Policy Hardly Helps”

  1. hkreese says:

    Like citizen bloggers around the world have become like amateur journalists, so citizen photographers become like amateur photojournalists. I feel as if one new policy is just the beginning, especially with the rise in interest in visual media. That that young man was called out for ‘loitering’ is ridiculous- loitering by definition means lingering aimlessly, or stopping without purpose. Assuming he was not in the way, he should not be responsible for anything, because can a lack of aim or purpose be the same as an act deemed criminal? Criminal acts contain some kind of aim or purpose or mal-intention.. If a citizen can witness it with his eyes, he or she should have the right to photograph or record it. However, Officers who violate the first amendment should be subject to the same penalties that anyone would face- it isn’t right to increase or decrease a law penalty for anyone having committed the same error as someone else, especially based on occupation.

  2. kes91 says:

    This policy has been a long time coming. I know I’m not the only one who has seen the videos from Youtube and other sites uploaded by a few citizen journalists who spend their time following officers and recording some questionable activity (http://www.blacklistednews.com/view.asp?ID=4041). I’ll admit, some of these individuals become incessantly irritating in some of the videos, but the point is valid: law enforcement officers should not be exempt from the rules. If it takes private citizens recording actions of officers to reinforce this, so be it. It’s clear that they are unable to discipline and police themselves. Naturally, police officers should have the right to detain those individuals clearly inhibiting necessary police action; but I believe this is an important step forward for both citizen and professional journalists working to display the reality of police wrongdoing.

  3. I think like every story there are definitely two sides here. I understand that it is easier for the police to do their job without the interference of civilians and threat of exposure by misuse of a photo or recording. I also understand that citizens have the right to know what is going on and to have a transparent police force. The question of who is right and who is wrong in each case is truly subjective. While I think less strict laws documenting police activity incurs freedom, I feel that in specific cases it can interfere with police properly completing their jobs. I think it might make more sense to have less restriction on journalists and not necessarily just all civilians. Most journalists have a sense of ethics that they practice, so maybe if journalists were to use their findings to expose true issues there could be some sort of agreement. I do think it is necessary that there is a police watchdog, but too much interference could inhibit the take down of true criminals.

  4. Maria Torres says:

    There shouldn’t be a reason for amateur or professional videographers/photographers to fear arrest, especially not when there’s a policy in place that protects them from such things. As long as they’re not obstructing justice, they’ll stay out of handcuffs. Police can’t be allowed to scare civilians so easily. But since there probably won’t be anything done about that particular issue in the near future, civilians will just have to continue to cite their rights when threatened.

    Civilians are allowed to record police goings-on — there’s even a policy that protects them. It isn’t just for police to abridge their rights. Police departments need to reconsider the extent of their powers before anything worse than lawsuits happen.

  5. Police here are in the wrong and have very little defense. Their job is to enforce the law — not break it. When the police start punishing innocent people, they lose their credibility. Just because the photographers are taking pictures of things you don’t want them to take pictures of does not make it right.

    Police stations need to educate their police officers as to the photography laws in their districts. That would help the police do their job and the photojournalists do theirs.

    These events need to keep being reported in the news. People need to know their rights.

    I do, however, think that police officers aren’t intentionally breaking the law, therefore they shouldn’t be punished. If after the educational emails, seminars, or meetings regarding photojournalism laws, the arrests continue, I might be more willing to accept punishing individual police officers.

    I have no advice for photojournalists trying to stay out of handcuffs. Just be lucky, I guess.


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