Here's a question for you legal scholars: Does a person have the right to record video of police officers performing their duties in a public place?
Since most Americans are now carrying phones with video capability, the police are aware that much of what they do during the course of an arrest or confrontation could be recorded. Had no one recorded the Rodney King beating, much of the outrage over the settlement of that case would have never happened. Think of all the videos you've seen of policemen overstepping the boundaries of proper behavior during arrests... the beatings, the assaults, the verbal abuse of suspects, and all of those other incidents that end up on youtube. Sometimes it seems the police are more concerned about someone video taping their actions than with the crime they're investigating.
Well, a man in Boston has gotten an answer to that question, and while it only applies to the states of Massachusetts, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and the nation of Puerto Rico, it is setting precedent in other cases.
In October of 2007, Simon Glik recorded the police arresting a man in Boston. The police saw him videoing their arrest with his cell phone and charged him with "illegal electronic surveillance, illegal wiretapping, aiding the escape of a prisoner, and disturbing the peace." A judge threw out the city's charges against Glik, and he promptly countersued in Federal Court for a violation of his civil rights. Aided by the ACLU, Glik won his case and the city of Boston has agreed to settle by paying Glik $170,000 in damages.
According to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, citizens have a right to record police officers performing their duties in public.
"The First Amendment includes the freedom to observe and document the conduct of government officials, which is crucial to a democracy and a free society. We hope that police departments across the country will draw the right conclusions from this case," said Sarah Wunsch, ACLU of Massachusetts staff attorney.
But if you think that means you can stick a phone cam in an officer's face when he's busy wrestling with a drunk at Hooters, you might want to rethink your legal rights...