DC Police Chief Publicly Criticizes Officer's Actions After He Attempts To Shut Down A Citizen Recording An Arrest

from the an-event-so-rarely-seen,-it-has-long-been-presumed-mythical dept

Over two years ago, Washington, DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier enacted a new policy for her officers to follow when dealing with citizens armed with cameras. Very simply put: leave them alone.

“A bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media,” Chief Lanier writes. The First Amendment protects the right to record the activities of police officers, not only in public places such as parks and sidewalks, but also in “an individual’s home or business, common areas of public and private facilities and buildings, and any other public or private facility at which the individual has a legal right to be present.”

Lanier says that if an officer sees an individual recording his or her actions, the officer may not use that as a basis to ask the citizen for ID, demand an explanation for the recording, deliberately obstruct the camera, or arrest the citizen. And she stresses that under no circumstances should the citizen be asked to stop recording. [Emphasis added for reasons that will become clear in a few paragraphs.]

Even if citizens are somehow impeding police work, under no circumstances should they be asked to stop recording. They should be asked to move out of the way and that request should be the totality of the interaction.

The new citizen recording policy was violated the next day. DC police officers seized a man’s phone. They later returned it, but without the memory card. Both actions violated Lanier’s clear instructions that cameras/phones could only be acquired with the person’s permission and that all devices seized must be returned intact.

This policy has now been in effect for nearly 26 months. Some officers apparently have yet to be “read in” on the specifics.

Here’s what happened to one citizen who attempted to record an arrest being made.

From the description:

“I pulled out my phone and began recording when I came upon a man being physically restrained by 7 D.C. police officers outside the downtown branch of the D.C. Public Library September 7, 2014, at 6:24 p.m. The video came out blurry, but 48 seconds in, Officer C.C. Reynolds (badge 3983) didn’t like that I was recording the proceedings, and tried to intimidate me into leaving the scene.”

Officer C.C. Reynolds tries out various tactics, like claiming a public sidewalk is private property, claiming the recording is part of the investigation/evidence, claiming that the person recording could easily become part of the investigation (a little threat) and that the photographer is interfering with the arrest. All of it is false. He also baselessly demands the photographer give him his name and present ID.

So far, nothing surprising. The First Amendment right to record public officials is still intact, but it is very often ignored by those being recorded. What is surprising is the official reaction. None other than the police chief herself criticized the actions of the officer in a written statement to WNEW.

We have an extremely clear policy that addresses the Metropolitan Police Department’s recognition of the First Amendment rights enjoyed by – not only members of the media, but the general public as well – to video record, photograph and or audio record MPD members conducting official business or while acting in an official capacity in any public space, unless such recordings interfere with police activity.

We spent an extensive amount of time to ensure that members were aware of the policy (developed in 2011).

The video speaks for itself. I was shocked when I saw it. There is no excuse for an officer to be unaware of the policy.

This matter is under investigation.

Cathy L. Lanier
Chief of Police

It’s not very often that a police chief will publicly criticize an officer’s actions. Normally, this sort of thing is handled with a blow-off statement about being “under investigation.” Only in very rare circumstances is that statement accompanied by a clear admission of fault.

According to Andrew Heining (the photographer who was harassed), he received another out-of-the-ordinary response when he filed a complaint at the precinct.

I filled out a PD-99 Citizen Complaint form with MPD Sunday night and submitted it to Internal Affairs and the District 1 Commander. I heard back from Commander Jeff Brown and Captain Brian Harris on Monday afternoon, and again from Capt. Harris Tuesday night. Capt. Harris told me the officers shown were clearly in the wrong, that he and another officer he showed it to said “What the hell!?” aloud while watching it. He told me that the officers in the video would be disciplined.

If nothing else, this indicates Chief Lanier is dead serious about the new photography/recording policy. It wasn’t something slapped into place as a token effort to mollify critics. She wants officers to respect her constituents’ First Amendment rights. Even better, it appears other commanding officers feel the same way.

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Comments on “DC Police Chief Publicly Criticizes Officer's Actions After He Attempts To Shut Down A Citizen Recording An Arrest”

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The Wanderer (profile) says:

Applause and kudos to Chief Lanier, Captain Harris, and the “other officer” involved. This is exactly the way police officers (especially high-ranking ones) should react when learning of violation committed by other officers, especially when there’s strong evidence that they have been – and it’s also just about the only example I can think of having seen of a case where they actually have reacted that way.

Let’s hope that they keep this up, both in this case (so that it doesn’t end up getting swept under the rug or disappearing into the cracks of Internal Affairs after all) and in any future cases that may, and likely will, arise. Let’s also hope that any necessary changes to training, monitoring, and discipline procedures to prevent future violations will be made with appropriate determination and alacrity.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So very much agreed. This is one of the best news stories I’ve read all week. I sincerely hope more police departments start taking notice and acting very similarly.

Or, even better, maybe the DOJ should start taking notice and doing exactly this top-down. Shame whole departments, impose referendums, investigate heavily and severely slash the funding of departments which choose to be recalcitrant. That is the revolution we need.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Now if they could get a policy where discipline was something real, rather than a paid vacation… or overturned by an arbitrator…

I await the police union screaming about how unfair this is to the officers, making them actually respect the rights of citizens and daring to punishment them when they break the law.

It seems like a good start, it is refreshing to see a Chief actually say something and mean it for a change. Now lets hope that seeing it enforced makes other officers follow the rule/law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, I’m not on the bandwagon cheering about this… yet. Yes, the Chief’s statement is great. Now DO SOMETHING. Fire him. Doesn’t have to be immediately, it can wait until after the investigation, but then fire this completely out of line officer. Then, and only then, will the other officers start taking notice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’d say that, except for the reactions of the other officers. Saying that sort of thing on the record is both an admission of guilt and proof that the station culture as a whole doesn’t go in for that. That’s encouraging, and significantly different than the image we’ve been getting of other PDs lately.

The real way to stop this sort of behaviour isn’t with penalties (although that might help) but with creating a policing culture that stigmatizes those who behave in such negative ways. Without this kind of culture, any penalty will be pointless (kind of like how putting people in jail without society being vocally upset about what they did not fixing anyhting).

Baron von Robber says:

Re: Re:

I would make Officer C.C. Reynolds’s discipline as such.

“Officer C.C. Reynolds will turn in his firearm. He will not be allowed to carry his firearm for 1 year while on duty as his ability to assess and react to even the most mild of interactions is in question. During this 1 year of probation, if he incurs any other another infraction of policy, he will be terminated.”

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It would make sense that this be an offical reprimand in his record and get enough of them, you are terminated.
He is a police officer, his boss said these are the rules and he went off on his own and broke them.
There needs to be a clear punishment that can’t be arbitrated away, and they need to know that termination is on the table if you fail to follow the orders. (not to mention the laws of the country that do not stop because a cop wants them to.)

Anonymous Coward says:

regardless of what was done previously to clarify what offices could and could not do, it seems to me that they need reminding quickly, loudly and permanently of the consequences for disobeying the chief’s words and the breaking of citizens amendments rights! it makes no difference what is said and what is done if those the measures are directed at ignore and are allowed to ignore. it just gives offices the Police State actions which are not questioned.

hoare (profile) says:

mental illness

What should the discipline be for trampling Constitutional Rights? The cop already appears “unstable”. Will he continue to carry a gun in public?
I thought we were trying to disarm all the psychos.
I’ve written my congressman and Senators and asked them what I should do when given an illegal order by a police officer.
None of them have responded.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

No help from Congress

We should remember that Washington DC is not like the 50 states as they have no proper representation in Congress.

“One of the greatest disgraces in this country is that the over 600,000 people living in Washington D.C. are denied enfranchisement. They can’t vote for Congress or set their own laws without Congressional approval.”


And individual congresscritters think they are above the law.

Which way will the MPD bend, in the end?

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think she’s as bothered by the officers trying to prevent a citizen’s perfectly legal actions, as by the massive FUCK-YOU that the officer gave to her direct instructions….

If I was DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier then I would hammer this officer so deeply into the ground that even his hat wouldn’t be visible.

If she doesn’t stamp her absolute authority now, then she does in effect become powerless and those she is in charge of will basically flout any instruction she gives.

Dan the Man says:

Not Correct

“The First Amendment protects the right to record the activities of police officers, not only in public places such as parks and sidewalks, but also in “an individual’s home or business, common areas of public and private facilities and buildings, and any other public or private facility at which the individual has a legal right to be present.”

Actually, this is obviously wrong. There are many placeswhich are private or quasi-private (malls, etc.) where an owner has the right to set certain standards of conduct. The issue gets complicated in 1st Amendment jurisprudence, but this blanket states is absolutely incorrect.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Not Correct

True, but I’d rather the authorities get it wrong in this direction than in the other.

And actually, since DC isn’t protected by state law, it’s possible that in DC, this is mostly correct — except that it’s not first amendment rights that give this right, but the fact that rights are there by default, and there’s no law limiting this behaviour in DC.

Ismail says:

C.C. Reynolds needs to be made an example of....

How NOT to conduct business as a public servant. How would this be accomplished? Mr Heining needs to file a civil lawsuit against Reynolds personally. The judgement against Reynolds should be such that it impacts him personally, professionally, and financially. Bad cops will continue to be bad cops unless their misconduct comes back to bite them specifically, rather than the department/state they work for.

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