We have been following cases of citizens arrested for videotaping police officers — often during abusive arrests. Now, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D. N.Y.) has introduced a resolution to denouncing the arrests. While it is refreshing to see at least one member who is motivated to take action in the face of these abusive arrests, the resolution will have no binding impact on these departments.
Congress can withhold funds from departments that are allowing such arrests. It is hard not to see these arrests as efforts to try to prevent citizens from gathering evidence of abuse. Before videotaping became common, many police abuse cases were dismissed for lack of evidence as a disagreement between officers and citizens.
Here is the language of H. Con. Res 298:
Expressing the sense of Congress that the videotaping or photographing of police engaged in potentially abusive activity in a public place should not be prosecuted in State or Federal courts.
Whereas prosecutors in several States are applying State wiretapping laws in the prosecution of individuals for the videotaping of police engaged in potentially abusive activity;
Whereas State and Federal wiretapping laws were not intended to be used for such charges;
Whereas some police departments have been using national security as a justification for the harassment, charges, or an arrest of individuals, based solely on a citizen recording, with no additional factors considered;
Whereas a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2000 indicated that 22 percent of police officers claim their fellow officers sometimes, often, or always use excessive force; and
Whereas the privacy and safety rights of the police officers in the line of duty must be balanced carefully with the public’s right to transparency and accountability of public servants: Now, therefore, be it
Resolved by the House of Representatives (the Senate concurring), That it is the sense of Congress that–
(1) citizen recording fills in gaps in existing checks against law enforcement abuses, when balanced with the needs of law enforcement, police privacy, and citizen privacy;
(2) national security alone is insufficient justification for harassment, charges, or an arrest for otherwise innocent behavior, such as videotaping; and
(3) members of the public have a right to observe, and if they choose, to make video or sound recordings of the police during the discharge of their public duties, as long as they do not physically or otherwise interfere with the officers’ discharge of their duties, or violate any other State or Federal law, intended to protect the safety of police officers, in the process of the recording.
Source: Carlos Miller