Dallas PD Guts Specifics From Citizen Recording Policy, Leaving Only Vague Reminder To Respect Pre-Existing Rights
from the doing-the-public-a-solid-by-not-interfering-too-much-with-its-rights dept
It shouldn’t need to come to this, but the Dallas Police Department has finally issued a policy related to citizen photography. There are many reasons law enforcement agencies need to remind officers of the right to record, but the Dallas PD may have needed a bit more of a nudge after a Texas legislator tried (unsuccessfully) to impose additional restrictions on citizen recordings — like a 25-foot “halo” around working officers, supposedly for their safety.
The issued general order seems straightforward enough.
[N]o member of the Dallas Police Department may prevent or prohibit any person’s ability to observe, photograph, and/or make a video recording (with or without a simultaneous audio recording) of police activity that occurs in the public domain, so long as the person’s location, actions. and/or behavior do not interrupt, disrupt, impede, or otherwise interfere with a peace officer while the peace officer is performing a duty or exercising authority imposed or granted by law. The public’s access to information regarding the official business of the Dallas Police Department is of critical importance to effective, transparent government.
Driving the point home further is the summary paragraph at the bottom of the order:
It is increasingly common for uninvolved bystanders at the scene of police activity to photograph and/or video/audio record the actions and conduct of police officers. Officers of the Dallas Police Department should simply assume at any time a member of the general public is likely to observe, and perhaps even photograph or video/audio record their activities.
This is a good assumption to make. And better yet, there’s no ridiculously arbitrary “halo” — one backed up by possible felony charges — attempting to further separate the police from public accountability.
So, what’s the problem with this order? It’s all the stuff it left out. As has been observed on multiple occasions, there are ways officers can still abide by the letter of an order while stomping all over its spirit. In addition to direct intimidation, officers have been known to block off recordings with their bodies or render recordings useless through other means. The Dallas PD originally considered these issues in a four-page draft. Almost none of this survived the cull into a single-page order.
Here are some of the specifics that failed to make their way into the final order.
331.05 Officer Responsibilities
Upon discovery that a bystander is observing, photographing, or video/audio recording the conduct of police activity:
DO NOT impede or prevent the bystander’s ability to continue doing so based solely on the discovery of his/her presence. (including, but not limited to, deliberately shining a flashlight into the camera lens to prevent recording)
DO NOT seize or otherwise demand to take possession of any camera or video/audio recording device the bystander may possess based solely on the discovery of his/her presence.
DO NOT demand to review, manipulate, or erase any images or video/audio recordings captured by the bystander based solely on the discovery of his/her presence.
Additional stipulations that were ultimately discarded include the reminder that no recording citizen is required to produce “press credentials” or otherwise justify their presence at a scene. It also instructs officers that their attention should be focused on the situation that demanded a police response, not the onlookers and their recording devices. And it tells officers that any seized recording equipment must be given up voluntarily by the person recording or obtained with a warrant. Exigent circumstances may result in temporary seizures, but only for the length of time needed to obtain a copy of the recordings.
All of this has been swept away and replaced with a truncated order that basically says the same thing, but doesn’t specifically forbid the sort of behavior often observed when officers discover a camera rolling at the scene. And if it’s not specifically forbidden, it’s generally taken to mean that this behavior is still acceptable until proven otherwise.
In the context of this order — which is really a reminder that officers should allow citizens to make use of their previously-existing rights — the lack of details leaves the door open for abuse.