Do Cellphone Cameras Endanger the Police?

With the proliferation of smart phones with built-in cameras, video encounters of citizens and police are finding their way online with greater frequency.  It is a far cry from the early 1990’s where video of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney King sparked a national debate over police brutality.  But has the advent of cell phone cameras actually endangered the police?

David Hudson Jr. published a recent article for the ABA that addressed the constitutional right to record the police and addressed some of the reasons most often cited by law enforcement for arresting law-abiding citizens who record their actions:

“Many officers are also uncomfortable that their activities might be displayed on the Internet and otherwise widely distributed,” says Portland, Ore., lawyer Bert P. Krages, who specializes in the area. “Some also have the impression that photography presents a security risk and are acting according to a post-9/11 mentality” . . . “Police justifications come in a few different flavors,” Hermes says. There are security concerns and charges of violating wiretap laws, which vary by state. But police also claim they are covered by qualified immunity. The doctrine shields government officials from liability for the violation of an individual’s federal constitutional rights—so long as the official’s actions, even if later found to be unlawful, did not violate “clearly established law.”

The article discusses several active cases involving the arrest of private citizens for doing nothing more than lawfully recording the activities of police in public spaces, including Glik v. Cunniffe (First Circuit Court of Appeals exonerated citizen accused of violating wire-tapping law), and ACLU of Illinois v. Alvarez (facial challenge to overbreadth of Illinois law).  Hudson also discusses the widely publicized arrests of Emily Good (arrested on her front lawn for video taping traffic stop) and Anthony Graber (arrested for violating wire-tapping laws six weeks after posting a video of his traffic stop online).

The full article can be found here:  Good Cop, Bad Citizen?  As cellphone Recording Increases, Officers Are Uneasy