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Christopher Drew, a 60-year-old school teacher, faces 15 years in prison for taping a conversation he had with a police officer.  (Source: José Moré/Chicago News Cooperative)

The Chicago police had 10,000 complaints of brutality, assault, and other wrong-doing filed against them between 2002 and 2004.  (Source: AFP/Getty Images)

  (Source: OBEY Images)
Class 1 Felony of recording a conversation is just below the prison time you'd spend for murder

We've often written on the disconnect between current laws and the reality of the digital age.  When a person gets charged over a million dollars for pirating and sharing a few songs, and a robber stealing a dozen CDs might have to a pay a few hundred in fines, the system can seem incredibly flawed at times.

Another example of this disconnect that has recently been brought into sharp focus include laws that police are using to try to prosecute those that digitally record their actions.  We already covered how police in some areas can arrest you, if you videotape or photograph them in a public or private setting.  Well, in some areas they can arrest you for even recording an audio conversation.

Illinois is one of the states with the toughest laws against audiotaping a conversation between you and another party without their knowledge.  The law [text] states that you can face up to 15 years in prison for committing the offense. 

Christopher Drew, a 60-year-old artist and teacher living in Chicago, is facing the charge after audio taping a conversation he had with the police.  In an interview with The New York Times, he remarks on his potential 15 years of hard prison time, "That's one step below attempted murder."

He adds, "Before they arrested me for it. I didn’t even know there was a law about eavesdropping. I wasn’t trying to sue anybody. I just wanted somebody to know what had happened to me."

He is not alone.  Other Chicago residents, including Tiawanda Moore, a 20-year-old former stripper, face similar charges.  They all have one thing in common -- their charges follow audio taping conversations with police.  The law is seldom applied in other situations – in fact, most don't even know it exists.  The law even makes it a lesser offense to tape a civilian once (a Class 4 felony) or twice (a Class 3 felony), versus taping a law enforcement officer (a Class 1 felony).

Ms. Moore's story is among the most alarming.  She is being charged with the Class 1 felony of eavesdropping using a digital device after recording on her Blackberry a conversation she had with two internal affairs officers.  The conversation occurred during her attempt to report a separate police officer for sexual harassment.  Now she's set for a February 7 trial in Cook County Criminal Court and may spend more than a decade in prison.

Contrast this state of affairs with the fact that Chicago police officers have one of the most stained reputations for police brutality.  According to a 2007 CNN report, 10,000 complaints -- many of them involving brutality and assault -- were filed between 2002 and 2004.  

Along with laws against video taping police in public, the measures against video and audio taping police encounters seem like a concerted effort to chain the hands of the citizenry and prevent them from reporting misconduct and wrongdoing.  Without direct evidence, claims are often discarded and laughed out of court.

The Illinois branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) fought the law -- it has sued the state of Illinois twice -- but the law won.  Its case, which asserted that the eavesdropping law violates the First Amendment and hinders citizens from monitoring the public behavior of police officers and other officials, has been thrown out of court twice.  

Mark Donahue, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said his organization cheered the decision, stating that he "absolutely supports" throwing those who tape police officers behind bars.

He complains that citizens monitoring police activities for wrongdoing might "affect how an officer does his job on the street."

As Ms. Moore and Mr. Drew contemplate on what their life might be like spending the next decade and a half on a prison cot, many in other states face similar situations.  Massachusetts and Oregon both make it illegal to digitally record (i.e. "eavesdrop") on an officer.  And a number of states are considering similar legislation.



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RE: Ha
By nafhan on 1/24/2011 3:20:54 PM , Rating: 1
I wholeheartedly agree with you.

I can, however, think of cases where recorded video or audio of legal and justified police activity can lead to harm for police officers. Things like revenge and perceived racism come to mind. Again, not agreeing with the law at all (I don't) just pointing out the types of arguments probably used to pass them.


RE: Ha
By rs2 on 1/24/2011 5:46:54 PM , Rating: 5
Forget the police officers for a second. Where's the extension to this law that says that I can send anyone who tapes me without my permission to jail for 15 years? Why are the police the only ones entitled to privacy?


RE: Ha
By lowsidex2 on 1/24/2011 10:28:30 PM , Rating: 5
Beyond that.. they freely record me when I get pulled over without my permission. Why aren't they in jail? Oh yeah.. I forgot.. they are the police.


RE: Ha
By Solandri on 1/25/2011 3:18:20 AM , Rating: 5
To turn an oft-used argument on its head, "If the police had nothing to hide, they wouldn't mind being videotaped."

And the standard counterargument of presumption of innocence does not apply in this case since they are public servants and we, as their employers, have the right to monitor their work performance.


RE: Ha
By Jeffk464 on 1/25/2011 1:53:26 PM , Rating: 2
I like the camera in the cop cars, it protects you from the cops as much as it helps them in prosecuting cases.


RE: Ha
By Lazarus Dark on 1/25/2011 7:38:50 PM , Rating: 3
In most places, the officer is in charge of the tape/ hard drive. They can usually delete it if they want. Or "lose" it.


RE: Ha
By tmouse on 1/25/2011 8:05:39 AM , Rating: 3
Actually its here:

Class X 6 years 30 years
Class 1 4 years 15 years
Class 2 3 years 7 years
Class 3 2 years 5 years
Class 4 1 year 3 years

So it would fall between 1-5 years. They mention it's a class 4-3 felony for civilian to civilian offences. Keep in mind these laws were originally to be for eavesdropping. So in that context one can see how bugging police stations and such would be a serious offence. Their current interpretation is bizarre to say the least. These laws also can affect you across state lines so do not tape any phone conversations unless you clearly state at the beginning the conversation is being monitored. The weird thing many of these laws now forbid taping even after notification for the police and often tie in with interfering with the duties of the police which is a bizarre stretch to say the least.


RE: Ha
By MrBlastman on 1/25/2011 11:11:08 AM , Rating: 2
The solution is simple: Make the same penalties apply to the police if done in reverse.

i.e. If an officer pulls you over and doesn't inform you immediately you are being taped with a dash camera and recorded via a mic, you can then go in front of the Judge at the local traffic court and request they prosecute the officer for illegally recording you.

If they can do it to us, we should be able to do it to them. This is utter crap and reciprocity is the only solution to it.

If they want to shove ridiculous sentences down on us, they should have it done to them. Perhaps, after they discover their "due process" is being hampered because all of the evidence they have to put people behind bars all of a sudden could put THEMSELVES behind bars, they might re-think the absurdity of what they are trying to do.

Of course, this would only work in a non-corrupted system, something that is impossible in Chicago and even in the town I live in, Atlanta. Corruption runs deep in all of the systems, both with the Police and the judges.


RE: Ha
By Jeffk464 on 1/25/2011 1:56:34 PM , Rating: 1
It comes down to expectation of privacy, basically when you are in public you have none and the cops should have none. If you are bugging the police department that is obviously not considered a public place. Just like the police have to get a warrant to tap your phone, bug your house, etc.


RE: Ha
By tmouse on 1/26/2011 8:19:21 AM , Rating: 3
Wrong, all municipal buildings are considered public places; you can have access restrictions in public places. I'm not in disagreement with most of your statement but one exclusion I could think of is an arrest by undercover officers were not all of the parties will be arrested. There public recording of the event would most definitely hinder police action and even endanger the lives of the officers and possibly their families. Photos are worse than memories for exposing these people. Now I totally agree it should be ok to record uniformed officer’s doing there duties.


RE: Ha
By Lerianis on 1/25/2011 6:06:23 PM , Rating: 2
nafhan, with all due respect, if a person takes a PICTURE of a cop from 200 yards or more away with a telescopic lens, there can be 'revenge'. Hell, that can even be done just by STANDING OUTSIDE OF A POLICE STATION or nearby with a pair of binoculars and following a person home.

There comes a time where the right of the CITIZENRY to make sure that the police and other civil servants are not abusing their power TRUMPS the rights of the officers.

To me and most sane Americans.... this is the point!


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