Many California citizens have heard the demand from the police: “sir, please turn of the camera,” or “turn off the camera or you’ll be arrested,” or words to that effect. What most of us know who have had contacts with law enforcement, is that most cops hate to be filmed. From the academy training onward, police are trained to protect the city from potential lawsuits and to “take charge.” In fact, contrary to what most people think, the job of the police is not to protect citizens or their property.
The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent… (See also NY Times.)
The primary job of the municipal police is to protect government property, personnel and “policy.” (eg police.)
- Officer safety, and many other reasons are given as justifications for police not being caught on tape.
According to attorney Michael Ehline:
When a citizen does not comply, many times he or she finds a ride to the local jail, and thousands in attorney’s fees for fighting off a frivolous Penal Code Section 148 charge. Although the courts have already made clear that citizens can generally film police, with certain exceptions, such as safety demanding that filmers be well clear of the potential danger zone.
Unfortunately, in the Golden State, each jurisdiction and department liked to handle these primarily “false arrest” cases differently. Sadly, the many state prosecutorial agencies needed to see it in writing from the governor before they would force their officers to start honoring the law on filming police. California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 411, which gives citizens the right to film police professionals while on duty.
This means when police officers are detaining a suspect or making an arrest witnesses who have been using cell phones to record the incidents or even the person being detained recording the event can now do so legally in the state of California. In the past many of the recorded videos have been posted to social media websites or YouTube and then gone viral. According to Sacramento County Sgt. Jason Ramos it is the way the world has become and people are interested when they witness law enforcement interaction with individuals. Cops hate it!
Sgt. Ramos did say that in many cases the officers jobs are more dangerous because of witnesses recording the scene. There is a potential for officers to become preoccupied with the people making the videos. The law enforcement officer went on to say there is a “fine line between being a diligent citizen with a camera and interfering.” I call nonsense. A diligent citizen would simply remain outside the zone of interference, and exercise good judgment. The film of the altercation can at least show evidence of reasonableness, or not.
State Senator Ricardo Lara was the author of Senate Bill 411 and says he believes it is important for it to be clear in a statute for an average citizen to be able to lawfully record police officer without concern of being arrested or intimidated. Of course, knowing cops as I know them, this will not stop cameras from being stomped, and other methods being employed in order to “get control.”
Lara said that having the code into California law cell phone evidence has the ability to keep people safe.
The new law comes after an early August incident where a Rohnert Park officer pointed a gun at a man who recorded the event on his cell phone. The law enforcement officer is now facing a lawsuit. One of the cell phone videos recorded made national headlines. This was the Eric Garner choking video.
Lara said everyone has cell phones today and now can be used to “deter violence.” The Garner video is one of the examples and cell phone videos can provide evidence in police wrong doing investigations. The Senator did make it clear the bill does not in any way give citizens the legal right to interfere with police, which is already what the law was prior to the bill being passed.
Senator Lara had support from the ACLU for passing of Senate Bill 411, saying in a written statement to the senator the bill will help to ensure every citizen is able to exercise their Constitutional right by making audio or video recordings or taking photographs. The letter goes on to say it is a “clear constitutional right to photograph and record the police in the performance of their duties.”
The letter concludes by stating the bill ensures the public’s right to gather information about their officials in the uncovering of abuses and it may have an effect on the functioning of government in a more general sense. We applaud the ACLU’s efforts at getting the state to notify its agencies what the law is, but we question the need to spend so much time and effort on this. Passing a law to make law what already is the law is not an efficient administration of justice, and also sheds light on why jury nullification is making more and more sense.