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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: 10,000 complaints, compared to what?
By HrilL on 1/24/2011 3:55:42 PM , Rating: 4
Maybe that is the problem then. Really there shouldn't be any complaints filed if these officers are in fact operating within the law.

These laws seem completely unconstitutional. There is no expectation of privacy in a public location. Why should police be allowed to have privacy while the public can't?

These laws seem to say without their knowledge. So do you record while letting them know you're recording? Or do you start afterward? In that case what proves that you let them know? Record and let them know seems like the best option since you've got proof you've let them know.

Police are supposed to serve and protect the public and are accountable to the public. We should have the right to record them in any and all situations. They record us so its only logical to have a recording from each party to make sure nothing has been tampered with...

RE: 10,000 complaints, compared to what?
By Just Tom on 1/24/2011 5:03:42 PM , Rating: 4
If you think even a perfect police force, if such a thing could exist, would have no complaints you're dreaming. Civilian complaints are used as a tool to game the system. Make a complaint, valid or not, and it might be used as a chip in plea bargaining.

By HrilL on 1/24/2011 5:58:38 PM , Rating: 2
This goes both ways btw. I've been arrested and one of the officers claimed I bruised her arm but never actually filed a assaulting an officer charge. I argued that there is no way I could have made finger print bruise because I was already cuffed. She put pictures of her arm in her report. The DA wanted me to serve more time but luckily my lawyer was able to prove using my argument that it was in fact not possible as it was her upper arm and my hands couldn't have made up up that high. Now I should have reported the officers talking me while cuffed for no reason and I had witnesses as well... Most of the police officers in my town can't even pass the metal exam but since there is so few people applying they get hired anyway. This same officer has had 100s of complaints filed against her...

RE: 10,000 complaints, compared to what?
By Jaybus on 1/25/2011 11:24:35 AM , Rating: 2
If given notice, then it is not without their knowledge, so perfectly legal. For example, many stores have security cameras. A notice is posted near the entrance for all to see. If the police do something inside the store and are caught on camera, then the store owners/management has not committed any crime. If someone covertly places a hidden camera pointed at the entrance of a police station to monitor their comings and goings, then that is a crime. If the people in question would have asked if they could record the conversation and the police agreed, then it would not be a crime. And why wouldn't you ask? It will look very bad in court when the jury learns that the officers refused to have the conversation recorded. It makes their testimony of what was said during the conversation far less reliable and lends credence to the accused version of what was said.

RE: 10,000 complaints, compared to what?
By Jeffk464 on 1/25/2011 2:04:37 PM , Rating: 2
Why wouldn't you ask, really? So if you video a cop beating the crap out of someone you would want him to know that you have the video on you? Don't you think he is going to then come after you to get the video so as to protect his job?

By lagomorpha on 1/29/2011 1:10:16 AM , Rating: 1
*cops beating the shit out of random person*

"Excuse me officer, would it be alright if I video tape you for a little.. owe OWE! WHY WHY ARE YOU BEATING ME!"

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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