New Policy Hardly HelpsPosted: February 17, 2012
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?