Another CA Cop Thinks A Cell Phone Might Be A Dangerous Weapon

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 PINAC’s article contains a video of a cell phone/gun, but it seems to require a bulky, out-of-date antenna to hide the barrel.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.

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.

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.

[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.

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Comments on “Another CA Cop Thinks A Cell Phone Might Be A Dangerous Weapon”

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Atkray (profile) says:

The video shows the police officers exiting their vehicle and approaching the group. If she thought it was a gun she would have been behind the car or a tree screaming at them to drop the weapon. Or they might have just opened fire on the group(which appears to be teenage ne’er do wells).

Detective Shannon Todd needs to be fired for incompetence.

Mistaking a phone for a gun = fail.
Not responding to what you believe to be a gun in an appropriate manner = fail.

Off topic: ?Doesn’t Newark have larger problems than 3 teenagers sitting on a picnic table in a park on a nice afternoon?

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’ve often wondered… Would it be illegal to tell a cop that your cellphone is live-streaming and cloud-saving the footage, even if it wasn’t? (Occurred to me after a scene in Cory Doctorow’s Makers, when a journalist whose phone actually is doing that puts a cop on the spot — “you’re being watched live right now” — and gets him to back down)

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That would be lying about an actual inquiry.

Otherwise, if I say “my arm itches” and it didn’t, it would be a felony.

So, the camera argument, unless they’re looking for a camera that was used to bludgeon someone, how is lying about “you’re being filmed” a felony, unless you’re being investigated for some weird crime that involves not filming people.

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Bluff… Absolutely. In a heartbeat. At the very least it will make them think twice if they think they cant destroy the evidence. Illegal to lie to a cop during an investigation? Most likely.(obstruction) Ill take the lie, get to keep my video, accept those charges, and have an accurate account of what happened. Rather than getting my video deleted and having no other evidence than He said and I said.

out_of_the_blue says:

"Don't ask the meaning of a folly, ask only what it accomplishes."

Ayn Rand.

What this deliberate insanity accomplishes is preventing recording, gets “police” used to confiscating phones, besides ratchets up the general level of police believing they’re under attack from everyone not in a uniform. — And of course hundreds of hours of playing violent video games trains them to shoot first and often to rack up a score, never bother with questions.

Look for more of it. People living in countries that launch wars for empire can’t expect to remain free. While the bankers loot the country from air-conditioned offices, the police will become more violent toward the innocent citizens they’ve sworn to protect.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: "Don't ask the meaning of a folly, ask only what it accomplishes."

Somehow, I think she was thinking of the unearning poor rather than the heroic high earners. They can get any benefit they can from the gub-mint as they’ve ‘earned’ it. because, you know, a man’s worth is the strength of his arm and the depth of his wallet.

Bloody frontier mentality. Maybe y’all should be shipped to Mars – or the asteroid belt…

Jessie (profile) says:

Come on. Have you seen pictures of these guns? They are pointed down the length of the camera, coming out the top near where the old school antenas would be. The cameras on most all phones are located on the front or back of the camera, not the top.

Unfortunately, I suspect we’ll have to wait for a tragic event, probably involving the loss of life of a cell phone owner to see anything done to stop this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think these issues can be a bit more subtle. It’s hard to tell (I haven’t watched all three videos yet to know) the extent that the person recording is associated with the group. I can see why the cop would ask the person in part two to either sit down or stand further away otherwise the cop would be unable to turn his back to the cameraman (who can then potentially attack the cop or remove evidence from the scene when no one is moving). It’s also hard to tell what previous engagements exist, there could have been prior contexts where this person has had issues with the cops on similar issues and that’s why the cops just want this person out of the way.

Also, if the person is not associated with the group there could be an issue of privacy if the camera holder is really close to the cops discussing the matter. Perhaps the group being questioned by the cops don’t want cameras on them. Granted, they are in a public place but when being questioned by cops they maybe asked private questions or questions that they may not want on tape, especially if those questions involve giving the cops useful information on other people who may retaliate.

Ophelia Millais says:

Re: Re: Re:

As you said, they are in a public place. It would be improper to broadcast any footage disclosing the identities of the civilians, but I’m not sure the act of filming them can be said to be an invasion of privacy, even if they don’t want cameras on them. And we’ve already established that cops don’t have the right to privacy in these situations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Cop == coward

Or haven’t you noticed? The days of “one riot, one Ranger” are far behind us. Now a cop can’t even handle the simplest issue without calling for backup, a SWAT team, helicopters, tasers, more backup, the bomb squad, still more backup, a supervisor, and his/her mommy.

“Serve and protect” is a joke — as we saw in Boston, when the wimps and cowards in the Boston PD couldn’t manage to find one frightened, wounded teenager without shutting the whole town down and bringing in armor. If they were actually faced with a REAL adversary they would have wet their pants.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am all for public safety…and safety of police. but why harass the innocent? why not go after the real criminals.

All these police people are doing is teaching the public to put the camera in a pocket. Or to wear hidden cameras. or have fannie packs come back into fashion.

I can see it now – shirts with special pockets large enough that the camera can stick out, and with some bean bag material to aim the camera.

Fanny packs might come back….with holes and special pockets to aim.

Both devices work with Smartwatch technology, to start and stop recording as desired.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Ooooh, you get my creative juices flowing. Exterior clothing designed to obscure your cellphone, yet allow free video recording of events to the front of your chest. Oooh, oooh, for the multi phoned person, a pocket in each direction. Then one needs a voice controlled APP that auto-magically starts the recording and the upload (assuming connectivity) or separately stores the video in three or four places on your phone, encrypted and named for your first pet. Hmmm, where is my dual use copyright/patent application form. They will straighten out which bits go where for me, along with the rapid approvals.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What can you fit in a video camera?

I don’t know, normally I’m with Tim and Techdirt when it comes to these issues but after watching all three of the videos I get the sneaking suspicion the cops really didn’t do anything wrong and the person with the camera is just being devious and interfering with police business.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: What can you fit in a video camera?

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

Still seems like an excuse, or over reaction. If the person was actually interfering with police business, then charge them with that, and use the video as evidence.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 What can you fit in a video camera?

Confiscate suggests no moral or legal wrong?

Robbery: n. 1) the direct taking of property (including money) from a person (victim) through force, threat or intimidation?

??? or, from a different legal dictionary,

Robbery: The crime of directly taking property (including money) from a person (victim) through force, threat, or intimidation.?

Decadre (profile) says:

At some point, these statements are just going to insult the intelligence of just about everyone.

I have a Samsung S3, and Samsung’s website lists the dimensions as 5.38 x 2.78 x 0.34 inches and the S4 is .31″ thick. The iPhone 4 is listed as being .037″ thick, while the iPhone 5 is .30″ thick.

While there is a .17 caliber bullet, the most common smallest rounds are the .204 and the .22 caliber rounds.

For argument’s sake, a Samsung S3 built to be a gun using a .204 caliber round would have to have a barrel that is less than .07″ thick. ( .34″ – .204″ = .136″ AND .136″/2 = .068″)

That gun would be a bigger threat to the person pulling the trigger than to the cop.

Anonymous Coward says:

I think people also have to take things into context. If I put my hands in my pocket and pull out my cell phone, between the of me putting my hands in my pocket and taking it out I could potentially be pulling out a weapon. The cops don’t know what I’m going to pull out of my pocket which is why they do have all these procedures (hands in the air) to prevent me from pulling out a weapon. and when you’re at a distance seeing fast motions like that making these judgements can be difficult. If the person didn’t have a cell phone no one would think anything was wrong with the cops making them open their hand, show they have no weapon, etc… I suppose they can do the same if they had a cell phone but perhaps new police procedures kinda need to be drafted for these cases that ensure both safety and the ability to record.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I think people also have to take things into context.

What’s really wrong with the idea that if you shoot someone in the back ?or if you shoot an unarmed man? then people are just going to find a rope and a tree.

Looks, cut-n-dried to me. You think riding two days to fetch a judge is reallly going to do all that much to change the facts? The man was unarmed. You shot him.

jimb (profile) says:

What are the cops going to do when Google Glass and the knockoffs become commonplace? “Sir, you have to take -off- those glasses!” –? Is this ridiculous enough yet? I predict the glasses with the built-in camera will be the end of this. Free $100-million idea — real-time streaming wifi or cellular link of computer-glasses video to a website (Youtube?) for the whole world to see. You might not get cash, but Google stock is nearly as good. Whoever runs with this, don’t forget who thought it up first.

Violated (profile) says:


Their claim that the cell phone could have been a gun is totally bogus and they know it. You can see from their own behaviour that they had zero concerns about threat to their own lives where they just saw it as a phone and where they did not want to be recorded.

Had they really thought a gun then they would soon draw their own handguns while ordering them down on the ground spread eagle style.

So all we have here is abuse of the law to censor. You would think cops would want to teach a bunch of kids better lessons in this high technology world.

Using this logic says:

Using this logic

Terrorists in other countries have impersonated police and killed civilians. So using the logic of the police, we should assume that any police officer stopping us is a terrorist and is going to kill us. Therefore we should not obey the police and instead shoot anyone who claims to be one before they kill us.

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