Police on YouTube

 Posted by on 19 December 2008 at 12:43 am  Law, Technology
Dec 192008

The December 17, 2008 New York Times reports on the variety of reactions that NYPD police officers have to being videotaped while performing their official public duties in this interesting article, “Officers Become Accidental YouTube Stars“.

The article notes that videotaping police is entirely legal, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the performance of their duties. And some police officers correctly recognize that fact:

“People tape all the time,” said an eight-year veteran of the department, a female officer in Downtown Brooklyn who, like other officers questioned for this article, spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she is not authorized to speak to reporters. “It makes you uncomfortable, but that’s their right. You can’t stop them from taping.”

Unfortunately other NYPD officers hold the following mistaken view:

An officer directing traffic in Brooklyn asserted that it is illegal to tape police officers. “If I know that he’s taking video, I’m going to walk up to him and stop him,” the officer said.

Or in another encounter:

…[A] man asks an officer if he may film him, and the officer replies, “You going to post them on the Internet? Then I’m going to have to break your camera over your face.” But he and other officers laugh, as does the cameraman, who eventually walks away. The video had 19,370 views as of Tuesday evening.

Provided that citizens don’t interfere with official police duties, this sort of transparency is a good thing. It can protect innocent civilians from police misconduct as well as protect honest police officers from wrongful claims of misconduct.

Given that it is perfectly legal for citizens to observe and truthfully write about any actions that police officers perform in public view while “on the job”, it should be (and is) similarly legal to record their official actions on video.

Update: As a concrete example, here’s a related news story about an apparent assault by an NYPD officer caught on video:

Note that the bicyclist was originally charged with “resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing government administration.” After the video surfaced, those charges were dismissed.

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