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Feds back ACLU in arguing that taping is necessary to prevent police brutality; some cops disagree

Depending on their perspective, U.S. citizens may feel as if they have wandered into one of the "police states" that litter cautionary literary tales like 1984.  Today in the U.S. police officers can arrest you for dancing or break down your door and arrest you and your family at gunpoint for whatever malicious wrongs your neighborhood cybersquatter has committed.  And then there's the growing levels of domestic surveillance -- warrantless wiretaps, cell phone data grabbingGPS tracking"national security letters", and more.  Audits have revealed that these Orwellian privileges can be and often are abused.

The Obama administration has drawn some flak for supporting some of these intrusions -- such as warrantless wiretaps and warrantless GPS tracking -- in the name of "fighting terrorism (the Obama administration was admonished by the Supreme Court on the latter issue).  Still, for supporting such zealous federal surveillance provisions, the Obama administration did take a rather progressive stand on Monday, looking to stomp out local and state officials efforts to ban civilians from taping on duty law enforcement officers.

I. Department of Justice -- Citizens Have a Right, Responsibility to Tape Cops

The issue of citizens taping the police is a thorny one -- particularly if you're a cop.  While some police officers support the practice, others claim it prevents their law enforcement abilities.  Whether or not the latter claim is true, it's clear that video tapes of U.S. cops brutalizing civilians [example] -- at times beating them to death [example] -- have placed some cops in a load of trouble when the videos found their way to YouTube or other popular sites.

Many police fraternities and police departments have fought to ban the "right to tape".  They argue that they don't need citizens to fight police brutality -- that they'll manage their own affairs internally.  Some departments have gone as far as to invading the homes of citizens who taped them operating on the street or imprisoning citizens who record them.

Police attacking
Some police argue that citizens taping them prevents them from doing their job.
[Image Source: Occupy News Network]

The Baltimore Police Department (BPD) was one of the departments that fought to silence members of the public, seizing their cameras and trying to prosecute them.  But a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) forced the department to rethink its procedures -- and pay a steep settlement to a citizen whose camera was seized.

While the BPD sent a letter to its officers "clarifying" that civilians had the right to tape, the Obama administration felt that effort was insufficient.  On Monday, U.S. Department of Justice Special Litigation Section chief Jonathan Smith wrote an admonishing letter [PDF] to the department.

In it he recalls how citizen taping helped bring justice in one famous incident of police brutality.  He comments, "A private individual awakened by sirens recorded police officers assaulting King from the balcony of his apartment.  This videotape provided key evidence of officer misconduct and led to widespread reform."

He adds "given the numerous publicized reports over the past several years alleging that BPD officers violated individuals’ First Amendment rights."

Bans on taping also violating the Fourth and Fourteenth amendment, according to Mr. Smith.

He concludes that the department needs to clarify the importance and right to civilian taping, which he argues is necessary to "engender public confidence in our police departments, promote public access to information necessary to hold our governmental officers accountable, and ensure public and officer safety.

II. Letter to Attorney General May Have Spurred Response

The letter comes in the wake of a letter from several journalistic and civil rights organizations to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, pressing him to crack down on local efforts to ban taping.  

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was encouraged to defend the right to tape in a recent letter.
[Image Source: DOJ]

The groups write:

The First Amendment has come under assault on the streets of America. Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began, police have arrested dozens of journalists and activists simply for attempting to document political protests in public spaces. While individual cases may not fall under the Justice Department’s jurisdiction, the undersigned groups see this suppression of speech as a national problem that deserves your full attention.

The alarming number of arrests is an unfortunate and unwarranted byproduct of otherwise positive changes. A new type of activism is taking hold around the world and here in the U.S.: People with smartphones, cameras and Internet connections have been empowered with the means to report on public events. These developments have also created an urgent need for organizations such as ours to defend this new breed of activists and journalists and protect their right to record.

The "Occupy Wall Street" movement has been fought by numerous state and local governments and become a crucial censorship and civil liberties battlefield in the tech industry.

III. Court of Appeals Forbid Chicago From Suing ACLU or Banning Taping 

More pressure also came earlier this month when the U.S. 7th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals in Chicago banned the city from suing the American Civil Liberties Union from audio taping officers on the job.  No, you didn't read that wrong -- in an ironic twist Chicago tried the bold move of turning the tables and suing the ACLU over taping.

In its ruling, the court wrote, "The Illinois eavesdropping statute restricts far more speech than necessary to protect legitimate privacy interests."

The victory came by a narrow 2-to-1 margin.  

U.S. Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner -- the lone appellate justice who voted to dismiss the ACLU's countersuit -- acknowledged that taping was "more accurate" than relying on recalled conversations, which are often ruled unreliable evidence in court.  But he argued allowing civilians to maintain accountability via taping violates officers’ rights to privacy and could hurt officers’ ability to "perform their duties".  He writes, "These are significant social costs for weighting them less heavily than the social value of recorded eavesdropping."

Police Brutality Police Brutality
Chicago Judge Richard Posner argues that taping cops brutalizing citizens prevents the officers from "doing their job" and invades their privacy.
[Image Sources: Unknown (left); Shepard Fairey (right)]

In response to Judge Posner's minority criticism, the ACLU argues that the only "duties" taping prevents would be orders to brutalize citizens.  The Illinois branch's legal director, Harvey Grossman comments on the victory, "In order to make the rights of free expression and petition effective, individuals and organizations must be able to freely gather and record information about the conduct of government and their agents -- especially the police."

Much like the controversy over corporate intrusions of individual home networks and data mining, the debate over bans and prosecution for civilians who tape cops is unlikely to go away.  It is an issue that divides cities, courts, local officials, and even the police officers themselves.  But much like the issue of corporate surveillance, the Obama administration appears to be increasingly throwing its weight behind a pro-civil liberty stance on this issue, even as it pushes what some would call an anti-civil liberty stance on federal surveillance.

Other appeals courts have issued similar rulings defending the "right to tape".

IV. Both Baltimore and Chicago Have a History of Police Brutality

To put this debate in context, it is important to note that both the Chicago Police Department and the Baltimore Police Department have a reputation for police brutality.

The BPD is under scrutiny for spending $10.4M USD in the past three years ($3.5M USD annually) to defend its officers against allegations of brutality and wrongdoing.  This week the latest in a string of internal affairs investigations of the department led to the suspension and criminal arrest of a BPD officer.

Chicago also has spent millions to defend allegedly crooked cops, keeping them on its payroll.  Citizens of Chicago were protesting in the streets this week in the streets over alleged police brutality.  While not all locals are fans of the protests, some argue it is necessary.  An anonymous resident told Fox News Chicago, "I'm glad they got a march because the police are crazy out here.  They come out here roughing us up ... sending innocent people to jail."

Chicago PD
Chicago has nearly 700 active cops with 10 or more reports of brutality or misconduct filed against them. [Image Source: NBC]

The Chicago PD has faced 441 citizen lawsuits and paid out $45M USD in damages over the past three years.  The city has successfully fought to prevent the release of the names of 662 cops who each had 10 or more complaints of misconduct or brutality filed against them.  Most of these cops remain active and prowling the streets.

Sources: DOJ via Wired [PDF], Baltimore Sun, Business Week

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Injustice Department
By FITCamaro on 5/17/2012 2:46:12 PM , Rating: -1
With a guy like Eric Holder in charge and Obama being president, they should change the name. There is no justice in the Justice Department. It's nothing more than their arm to try and go after those who don't do their bidding. Or try and demonize men with charges of hate crimes who get caught up in a media firestorm because of lies told about the circumstances in which they were forced to shoot a young black kid.

Meanwhile all the "retaliatory" attacks that have happened since then have gone completely ignored.

RE: Injustice Department
By superstition on 5/17/2012 3:33:43 PM , Rating: 3
"Bans on taping also violate the Fourth and Fourteenth amendment..."

Are you going to spin the Constitution as being anti-justice as well?

Care to share your reasoning as to why the cops who beat the homeless mentally ill man to death shouldn't have been videotaped and thus held accountable?

RE: Injustice Department
By FITCamaro on 5/17/12, Rating: -1
RE: Injustice Department
By Jeffk464 on 5/17/2012 7:14:20 PM , Rating: 2
The video was obtained from a city camera that is monitored by the police by the way. The scary thing about this incident is that the cops felt secure enough to also beat him to death in front of a bunch of witnesses. Last I heard the police department is going to be disbanded and the sheriff's office is going to take over the area. It sounds to me like the FBI decided that the culture of the Fullerton PD was broken.

RE: Injustice Department
By dgingerich on 5/17/2012 3:38:56 PM , Rating: 5
Normally, I kind of agree with you FIT, but in this case, I disagree completely. I've had enough of cops abusing their power and doing their jobs with such a lazy attitude.

Many cops, most cops that I've had to deal with, are lazy bullies and need to have their powers revoked. I've had cops pin accidents and assaults on the first person they just didn't like. (I was in jury duty on a case where they pinned an assault charge on a guy who wasn't even within a block of the assault when it happened, and was shown on surveillance tape being over a block away. It cost that poor guy $35,000 in legal expenses to fight the charges, despite being totally innocent of the charges. In addition, they let the guy who actually did assault several people get away with it completely.) When I was in college, I had my car completely emptied, newly laundered clothes dumped in the mud on the side of the road, because the cop had caught me speeding weeks before. I paid my ticket and adjusted my driving habits, corrected myself to the straight and narrow, and this cop continued to pull me over for any BS reason he could think up every single weekend when I'd pass through his city on my way home. I had one situation where I was accused, and even charged, for armed robbery just because my car was seen in the parking lot just before the robbery. They accused me of being his getaway driver, despite the lack of anyone else getting in my car on the tape. (The guy had actually run down the street, and not taken any car at all, and this was obviously visible in the tape, if he'd only watched it long enough.) I could go on with examples, but I can tell you I have never had a good experience with cops, even when I was the victim.

I do my best to keep on the straight and narrow. Yes, my driving is a bit fast and a little careless, but overall I'm an honest guy. I don't take drugs or abuse alcohol, and never have. I don't steal. I don't assault people. I have people cause me trouble once in a while. I've been in 9 car accidents, where I was at fault in one, and had a lazy cop pin another one on me.

I know there are some cops with good intentions when they start, but they get corrupted by the environment and cover for their fellows' corruption. It's all in the attitude of "everyone guilty of something" when that is far, FAR from the truth. They're all tainted by it. They all become it. It doesn't matter what their intentions were in the beginning.

Don't trust any cop. Plain and simple. As far as I'm concerned, they're all guilty. They're all abusing their power. I suppose they're better than everyone being in street gangs for protection, but not by much.

RE: Injustice Department
By superstition on 5/17/2012 4:02:20 PM , Rating: 3
Oh, the irony:
It's all in the attitude of "everyone guilty of something" when that is far, FAR from the truth. They're all tainted by it. They all become it. It doesn't matter what their intentions were in the beginning. Don't trust any cop. Plain and simple. As far as I'm concerned, they're all guilty.

RE: Injustice Department
By Spuke on 5/17/2012 5:05:33 PM , Rating: 2
Oh, the irony:
You know, I'm black and never experienced the horrors the previous poster had. LOL! Fess up dude, you boned some cops daughter with a wiffle ball bat and he got pissed.

RE: Injustice Department
By dgingerich on 5/17/2012 5:14:02 PM , Rating: 2
That's one of the mistakes the public is making. Most cops aren't racist. they're just bullies, and they push people around for whatever reason they can think up, because they have fun with it. Racism is just one of those excuses.

granted, there are some racist cops, but not really that many.

RE: Injustice Department
By dgingerich on 5/17/2012 5:11:40 PM , Rating: 2
All police officers are corrupt, sharing in the corruption by protecting their fellow officers from punishment for abusing their authority and power. As we learned from Frank Serpico's story, any cop choosing to stand for what is right gets pushed out. Therefore all that is left are dirty cops.

Most people who are not police officers who lead good lives and don't hurt others. Most people don't go around robbing other people at gun or knife point. Most people don't go around dealing drugs. Most people don't go around taking drugs. Most people don't go around beating people up. Those who do these things are a small minority. Yet, because police officers deal with that small minority so frequently, they begin to think of everyone as being that way.

In addition, and probably because of this attitude, they begin to cease actually protecting the innocents and begin taking shortcuts, curtailing citizens' rights, privacy, and property. (For instance, the seizure of people's property on our highways without charges or due process. It's a growing, horrible problem these days. Highway driving can cost you your car, money, or other belongings, no matter if you are doing anything wrong or not, all in the matter of "the war on drugs.")

This is all cops. Those who stand up for what's just and honorable are pushed out. They aren't allowed to stay cops because the corrupt ones outnumber them so badly.

Again, don't trust any cop. they are all corrupt.

RE: Injustice Department
By FITCamaro on 5/17/2012 5:51:21 PM , Rating: 2
All police officers are corrupt,


All cops are not corrupt. Most are hard working men and women who are out to protect the citizens of where they live and work. Do they let each other off sometimes for speeding or what not? Yes. You do exactly the same damn thing for your buddies. Or do you call the cops any time your friend has had a few drinks and drives home?

RE: Injustice Department
By dgingerich on 5/17/2012 6:26:02 PM , Rating: 2

My cousin, shot to death by a police officer. What they don't tell you in this article is that there are 6 points of physical evidence clearly apparent in the crime scene photos that completely contradict the police officer's account.

I can show that he was laying on the ground, bleeding from the head from a fractured skull when he was shot twice just from GSR, blood spatter, and where the bullets hit the curb behind him. The knife had one bloody thumbprint on the handle, the officer's, while my cousin's hand and arm were covered with blood up to his elbow. (Showing that he couldn't have been holding the knife when he was shot.) The evidence speaks for itself. You don't even need any education in CSI to see the obvious in this crime. I have those crime scene photos on CD at home, trying every year to get the Colorado Attorney General to prosecute the cop.

This is the same cop that, along with 5 others, beat down a homeless man for stumbling into a cop picnic in a public park and Philadelphia just a few years before, and was let off with no charges and "no wrongdoing" because the cops rallied around him. He claimed he took out his nightstick because he was "trying to sweep his sunglasses out of the way so they wouldn't get broken." Yet, you can clearly see him raise and lower that nightstick quickly, as in hitting someone, three times in the video. (I'm still trying to find the link to that video.)

All the while, the cops rally around him to protect him and proclaim his innocence. All of those cops share the taint for protecting this murderer.

RE: Injustice Department
By FITCamaro on 5/17/2012 11:24:16 PM , Rating: 2
Yes because that means that every single cop in the country is a corrupt piece of shit who goes around killing innocent people.

Do you fucking read this shit that you're posting?

RE: Injustice Department
By kyp275 on 5/18/2012 2:42:44 AM , Rating: 2
It's scary, but I agree with FIT 100% here

dgingerich, your logic is about as sound as if someone proclaiming that every single fictional story ever written is bad because he read a crappy fanfic online.

RE: Injustice Department
By dgingerich on 5/18/2012 10:28:51 AM , Rating: 2
In the justice system, people who cover for others who have committed things like murder, kidnapping, and robbery are called accessories, and are frequently punished with the same level of jail time as those who committed the offenses. By their very logic, all police officers who cover for corrupt cops are themselves as corrupt. They are accessories.

What I don't understand is that these corrupt cops have already betrayed every other cop with their corruption, eroding their credibility, destroying all their progress. So why do these cops consider it a betrayal to fail to cover for corrupt cops?

It only makes sense that they cover for each other so intensely because they are all that corrupt. As I said, any cop standing up for what is right and working to rid the departments of those corrupt cops are pushed out. The police departments of today have no room for good cops. All that is left are corrupt cops.

RE: Injustice Department
By Initium on 5/19/2012 4:17:13 AM , Rating: 2
Corruption thrives in systems not individuals. The difference between a police officer and everybody else is police officers swear an oath to uphold the law. As such they must be held to the highest standard of the society. If a police officer looks the other way when another police officer commits a crime, any crime, they are failing in their duty. That makes them corrupt by omission. Police do not patrol alone. Therefore every incident of wrongdoing should be noted and acted upon. But as we all know this does not happen often enough. Those brave individuals who do act are bullied out of the police force.

Police officers are given powers that no ordinary citizen possesses. That is a sacred trust which must be upheld at all costs for the police forces of this world to maintain their legitimacy in the eyes of the societies they serve. All power corrupts. Police officers are human. They are susceptible to the same temptations as the rest of us. If they become corrupted by the system they are not individually to blame. The system has failed them as much as it has failed us.

Police officers are first and foremost citizens of the society they serve. They must be subject to the same laws as the rest of society. If they are not then the society will never trust them. And that is the exact situation we have now. Internal review, closed door investigations and a lack of transparency all contribute to the mistrust of police forces everywhere.

Individual police officer's acts of corruption are not the problem. They are the symptoms of a system that is fundamentally flawed and broken. A system that fails to serve the very people it was created to protect. Until we as a society, a polity and a community are prepared to change that system sniping at cases of individual police misconduct and tarring the whole police force with the same brush serve no purpose beyond eroding public confidence in police officers.

Surely, we all want a police force that acts in the best interests of the society they are sworn to serve and protect. Police officers who maintain the highest standards of conduct and behavior. Perform their jobs with unimpeachable professionalism. If you want to change the system get involved. Decisions are made by those who show up. Put up or shut up!

RE: Injustice Department
By Jeffk464 on 5/17/2012 7:21:01 PM , Rating: 2
code of silence they let each other off for more than speeding. Things like spousal abuse, writing reports to reflect justified use of force when its questionable, etc. If you remember the bridge incident after katrina where a cop blatantly murdered a guy, the other officers all cover for that cop.

RE: Injustice Department
By FITCamaro on 5/18/2012 7:32:08 AM , Rating: 1
Things like spousal abuse

No different than an office where it just goes ignored since "Its none of my business" unless the people are good friends.

writing reports to reflect justified use of force when its questionable

No different than a buddy at work helping you cover up a mistake you might have made on a project.

No where have I said all cops are good. They are humans. We are all flawed and sinful. Some more than others. I do not advocate for or support police who cover up excessive, unjustified force or blatant killing. But the premise that all cops are bad is something that the last few decades worth of people have tried to perpetuate through the media and culture and I will not stand for it. It breeds hatred towards authority figures which is a bad thing for society since it inevitably extends to parents.

I'm tired of whiny little bitches who cry because they get in trouble for doing something wrong, something they knew was wrong. Bad people, cop or no, deserve to be punished for their misdeeds. But in the real world, that doesn't always happen. It doesn't make all people, cop or no, bad though.

RE: Injustice Department
By Jeffk464 on 5/18/2012 7:49:34 PM , Rating: 2
I agree not all cops are unethical but I do think the job attracts authoritarian aggressive types. Plus they deal with people I'm bad situations all day every day, which probably doesn't improve their attitude.

RE: Injustice Department
By Reclaimer77 on 5/17/2012 8:00:16 PM , Rating: 1
I understand why what happened to your brother would make you feel this way, but saying "all cops are corrupt" is simply mindless venting. But whatever makes you feel better.

Yet, because police officers deal with that small minority so frequently, they begin to think of everyone as being that way.

And yet, this is no different than you calling all cops corrupt. We hear about the tiny minority of them that make the news, so they must all be bad cops.

RE: Injustice Department
By dgingerich on 5/18/2012 12:13:41 PM , Rating: 2
1. He was my cousin, not my brother. I wasn't particularly close to him, but I knew he would not have done what that cop said he did.

2. It wasn't that just the minority of cops are corrupt (they aren't from my experiences. I have only met one cop I would consider a good guy, but he still had a certain problem that all cops have.) The big problem is that they all cover for the corrupt cops. they let them get away with things like assault, robbery, murder. There are many reports of people driving cross country and having their vehicles, money, and other belongings taken by cops in the name of drug law enforcement when the cop couldn't come close to proving the people had committed any crime beyond speeding. It's not just a minority. it's cops covering for others, good men getting forced out of the profession, and bullies getting promoted. There are no good men left in the police departments.

RE: Injustice Department
By FITCamaro on 5/17/2012 5:47:53 PM , Rating: 2
Again. Where do I say that cops should be allowed to stop people from video taping them.

The only time I agree with the cops on that issue is when people are being unruly or obstructive in their attempts to video tape something and is causing a problem with the cops trying to do their job.

RE: Injustice Department
By Creig on 5/18/2012 7:47:09 AM , Rating: 1
It's funny how all the guys who say "Don't trust any cop" and who come up with all these outrageous cop horror stories eventually admit things like, "Yes, my driving is a bit fast and a little careless".

You break the law, get caught and then bitch, whine and lie about the police because you're pissed that you got caught. You know what? If you don't want to have to confront the police? DON'T BREAK THE LAW! I don't drive fast, I don't drive careless and I don't get pulled over. Wow, what a concept!

I hope that when you are in a real emergency or have an armed thug breaking into your apartment that you have the balls to deal with it yourself instead of dialing 911 and making the lazy, abusive bullies driving the black and white cars come and save your sorry, whiny ass.

The overwhelming majority of police are out there to make the world a safer place for all of us. They put themselves in harms way to deal with the scum, the crazies and the violent so that we don't have to. Yes, there are a few bad apples here and there that make the rest of them look bad from time to time. But doesn't every profession have the same problem?

I am always polite and respectful to any police officer I meet BECAUSE THEY DESERVE IT.

RE: Injustice Department
By GotThumbs on 5/18/2012 11:19:28 AM , Rating: 2
Well put.

Its the whiners of this world and those who choose NOT to be self-responsible that make the biggest noise against police.

Of course we all know those who break the laws...are of high moral character and wouldn't even think of lying about what really happened.

We need greater focus on self-responsibility in this nation.

Thank you for your common sense input.

RE: Injustice Department
By dgingerich on 5/18/2012 11:50:40 AM , Rating: 2
ok, so I've had a speeding ticket. One. I've had one accident where I got distracted at a key time and hit the corner of someone's bumper. I know I did wrong there, and I took my punishment like a man. I paid the fines and didn't gripe.

My griping isn't over that. it's about one cop treating me like a drug dealing criminal just because he caught me speeding, another cop murdering my cousin while all the other cops let him get away with it, and so many others I see in the news getting away with everything.

RE: Injustice Department
By captinkirk on 5/18/2012 1:43:23 PM , Rating: 2
Well put! I believe that you hit the nail on the head. I have had an officer let me go for a minor speeding violation because i was being polite and respectful. Its the way I was raised so I've never had any run-in with my local PD.

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