from the 'to-serve-and-elicit-incredulous-laughter' dept
Citizens recording police activity often find their subjects in no mood to be photographed. These amateur photographers/filmmakers are threatened, attacked or dragged to the nearest police station and booked, using charges like "interference" or "disorderly conduct" or "walking in an alley" to make sure they don't walk away unintimidated.
A new thought process seems to be taking hold, however. As we covered a few weeks ago, police officers are now trotting out the bizarre theory that the cell phone filming them might be a weapon. Photography Is Not A Crime has rounded up another instance of a cop playing the "cell phone=gun" card in order to prevent being recorded.
A California cop who was being video recorded by a smartphone said she was in fear for her life because the phone could have possibly been a gun, marking at least the fourth time this year a cop in this country has uttered those nonsensical words.
The trend of insinuating cell phones can be guns began earlier this year when Juan “Biggie” Santana had his Sony Bloggie confiscated by Hialeah police officer Antonio Sentmanat in South Florida.
It continued when San Diego police officer Martin Reinhold slapped a phone out of Adam Pringle’s hands and arrested him while writing him a citation for smoking a cigarette on a beach boardwalk.
Then again in Arkansas when a cop ripped an iPhone out of a man’s hands who had been trying to document the Exxon oil spill outside Little Rock.
It certainly hasn't reached epidemic levels yet, but the argument seems to be increasing in popularity. The story we covered contained a statement by the police officer that indicated this new "cell phone=gun" logic is part of the training process.
Now, it's not entirely impossible to make a weapon shaped like a cell phone. It's just highly unlikely. PINAC's article contains a video of a cell phone/gun, but it seems to require a bulky, out-of-date antenna to hide the barrel. The weapon exists (or existed), but it (or any knockoffs) never made an appearance here in the US.
[T]hat weapon never even made it to the United States, according to ExCopLawStudent, a former cop turned law student who firmly believes in the right of officers to ensure their safety, but who also understands police paranoia doesn’t override the Constitution.So, the threat of a weaponized cell phone is hovering at zero, or close enough to it to be laughable when a law enforcement officer uses this "danger" as an excuse to prevent being recorded. Even the supposedly trained-in-the-art-of-phoneguns cops don't take the argument seriously. Or at least no more seriously than the TSA agents who are instructed to consider 3 ounces or less of a liquid "safe," ignoring the fact that any traveler with opposable thumbs could pour 6 ounces of liquid into two three-ounce containers and sail right through the checkpoint with a "dangerous" amount of contraband.
In 2000 or 2001, police in Europe discovered a four-shot gun disguised as a cellphone. Since then police officers in the United States have claimed on multiple occasions that civilians who were recording video with their cellphones had to put the phone down. Why? Because it could be a weapon.
Geez, guys, you’re killing us. There have been no cellphone guns recovered in the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
In addition, there are exactly zero court cases that discuss the issue. As a matter of fact, there is nothing in the legal world that discuss the issue. No law review articles, no trial or appellate briefs, nothing.
[I]f Detective Shannon Todd of the Newark Police Gang Unit was really so stupid to believe that the phone could have been a gun, then why did she first order the citizen to place it back into his pocket?The rhetoric is used solely to shut down filming. If this was an actual weapon, one presumes it would be confiscated and the carrier arrested, or at least detained until proper paperwork was produced (cell phone bill?). This also conveniently ignores the fact that many everyday objects that people carry around have also been converted into weapons at one point or another.
The only threat a cell phone presents to an officer making this assertion is the possibility of public embarrassment. I suppose we should be happy that these officers are at least going above and beyond the "you can't film me" argument and showing a little creativity in their shutdowns of amateur policewatchers. But this one crosses the "fine line between clever and stupid" and just keeps running.