In the Two Minute Drill, we explain complex issues in politics in 500 words or less (roughly the amount of words it takes the average adult two minutes to read on a monitor). Politics just isn’t always that complicated. Without the fluff and partisan bias, even the most complex of our political differences can be explained succinctly. This week: know your rights when recording the police. This is The Two Minute Drill for May 1, 2015.
Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man, died Sunday from a spinal cord injury following an arrest by multiple Baltimore police officers that some eyewitnesses described as “brutal.” The incident is just the latest example of police violence and brutality, and has sparked outcry from elected officials and community members for police reform. But the only reason we are talking about Freddy Gray is because Baltimore resident Kevin Moore captured his arrest on video. Now, reports are surfacing that Kevin Moore has been arrested following “harassment and intimidation” from Baltimore police. This is concerning, to say the least. And begs the question: Can the cops cuff you for filming an arrest?
The Explanation (500 or Bust)
It is perfectly legal to film the police, so long as you do not physically interfere with their work. However, you can reduce the risk of legal consequences by understanding the following rules.
Rule #1: Know the Law in Your State
Many states have so-called “eavesdropping laws” on the books. These laws were conceived when pocket-sized recording devices were not widely distributed, and they were intended to protect people against snoops, spies, and peeping Toms. Now that this technology is in the hands of average citizens, “eavesdropping laws” have become outdated. Nonetheless, police and prosecutors will sometimes insist that these outdated laws prohibit citizens from documenting on-duty police.
As indicated above, however, the general rule is that it is legal to record on-duty police in public, so long as you are not interfering. While police might still unfairly harass you, when in public spaces where you are lawfully present you have the right to photograph anything that is in plain view. That includes pictures of federal buildings, transportation facilities, and on-duty police. Keep in mind that some states – e.g., Connecticut, Florida, etc. – require the consent of all parties for you to record a conversation. But even in these states, courts have held that on-duty police do not have a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Rule #2: Know Where You Are (Public v. Private)
Your right to record police is much more limited on private property because when you are on private property, the property owner may set their own rules regarding recording them. If you disobey the property owner’s rules (i.e. the owner does not want you to record the police), they can order you off their property and have you arrested for trespassing if you do not comply.
Rule #3: Know What the Police Can and Cannot Do
Be open about your recording activity and always remain polite and physically never resist a police officer. The police cannot detain you without reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot – i.e. that you have or are about to commit a crime. What counts as being “detained”? A person is detained” when an officer uses enough force, or a show of authority, to make a reasonable person feel he or she is not free to leave. Note that an officer does not have to tell you that you are a suspect or that they intend to arrest you for you to be considered “detained” under the law.
In terms of your photographs or video, police officers may not confiscate or demand to view your digital photographs or video without a warrant – for example, officers have faced felony charges of evidence tampering as well as obstruction and theft for taking a photographers memory card. It is possible, however, that courts may approve the temporary warrantless seizure of a camera in exigent circumstances, such as where necessary to save a life.
Rule #4: Don’t Break Other Laws
Always remember that the right to photograph or video does not give you a right to break any other laws.
Word Count: 498
THE FIVE: Here are the five best things we’ve read all week.
- Professional Credibility. “The involvement of health professionals in the Bush-era interrogation program was significant because it enabled the Justice Department to ague in secret opinions that the program was legal and did not constitute torture.” From James Risen in The New York Times: American Psychological Association Bolstered C.I.A. Torture Program, Report Says.
- Four Block Radius. “One thing that sticks out from my time is how much all cops hate the ghetto. And that’s not a race thing. I think black cops are better at picking up the class nuances of the ghetto and defining it more about that than about geographic area. Some people want to make this a racial thing, I think it’s a class issue. You have this underclass that has no education, no jobs, no experience outside of a four block radius. And we ignore it.” A former Baltimore cop talks to Geoffrey Gagnon in GQ: We Have to Solve the Problems of America That Nobody Wants to Deal With.
- The “Bottom” of the News. “I don’t know how you guys do it. I look at your normal toilets, the ones with seats that are as cold as ice, the ones that don’t spray and buff your nethers with a soothing shower of cleansing H20, and I shake my head. I look at your dry-wiping ways, and I wonder how your mom raised you.” From Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times: Electronic Bidet Toilet Seat Is the Luxury You Won’t Want to Live Without.
- The Ties That Bind. “Here is, weirdly enough, real community. And when I say community, I don’t mean that bourgeois civic vagueness you always hear the co-op crowd chattering about. I mean the kind of community that would protect you from vigilantes intent on dragging you out of bed in the middle of the night to take turns kicking your teeth down your throat.” From Jay Kirk in GQ: Welcome to Pariahville. In case you’re wondering, “Pariahville” (or the City of Refuge, as it’s also known) is a community in Pahokee, Florida. And it’s a village for sex offenders.
- Kingpin. “Quickly the house was flooded by cops in riot gear and black masks, weapons at the ready. There was Green, covered in cocaine and flanked by to Chihuahuas.” From Joshua Bearman in Wired: The Rise & Fall of Silk Road – How a 29 Year-Old Idealist Built a Global Drug Bazaar and Became a Murderous Kingpin.
And in case you missed it, check out The Weekly Column. This past week took a look the legal structure by which the U.S. justifies its current use of military force. Read the Column for April 28, 2015 – Repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.