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.

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Comments on “Dallas PD Guts Specifics From Citizen Recording Policy, Leaving Only Vague Reminder To Respect Pre-Existing Rights”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

A rule never enforced is one that effectively doesn't exist

Ultimately, it doesn’t particularly matter whether the rules are specific or vague, all that matters is enforcement, whether or not breaking them results in any sort of consistent punishment. The most precise rules possible are completely useless after all if violators of them are never held accountable for their actions.

That they tossed out any specifics is of concern to be sure, but ultimately meaningless if they never intended to enforce the rules in the first place, as it seems is the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: A rule never enforced is one that effectively doesn't exist

Even if they hadn’t been taken out they all had the same bullshit escape clause built in them:

“based solely on the discovery of his/her presence”

All the officer had to come up with is some excuse as to why is wasn’t “SOLELY” based on noticing that they were there. That isn’t hard to do.

David says:

Don't forget that after one recent shooting

The one where a mentally handicapped man was shot in the street, and the police were discredited by nearby surveillance footage from a neighbor: The Dallas Police Chief enacted policies to allow officers involved in a shooting to not file a report for 72 hours, in order for any video discovered to be reviewed first.

bureau13 (profile) says:

I really don’t have a problem that they left out a few specific examples, in order to end up with a perfectly clear one-page order. It is ridiculous to think that, if someone is trying to get around the spirit of that order, you’re going to list and specifically prohibit all possible ways to do so. As someone else already stated, the key is going to be enforcement of the order. Adding a few specific examples will simply make it easier to say “Look, this thing that I did is not on the list of forbidden ways to thwart the public, therefore it’s OK.”

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Worse yet, the specifics outlined in the Bill of Rights were problems already.

The reason Jefferson acknowledged protections such as against self incrimination or from illegal search and seizure or oddly from quartering soldiers in your own home during peacetime is because these transgressions were often made by the British garrisons against colonials.

Much like my frustration that we have to extend civil equality to one demographic at a time, we also seem to require the definition of rights and protections, one incident at a time, whether it is for reasonable terms of use of a product or service or, in this case, the right to stand and use a recording device to monitor a police action since the public cannot rely on fair and consistent use of police accountability measures in place.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

The lack of details leaves the door open for abuse.
So why not fight fire with fire? Any time you film police interactions that get cop blocked, edit the footage to add in the sound effect of a nightstick impacting on a human body. How long do think it would take for Dallas PD personnel to follow the spirit as well as the letter of the law if everyone began doing that?

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Fighting fire with fire

I think such a tact may have limited use since plenty of judges are willing to take the word of police officers over contradictory evidence in a video.

But it may serve some use at least to draw out (also edited) recordings being witheld. I’m pretty sure falsifying evidence as a civilian is pretty damning. Not so, within law enforcement despite Hollywood’s many implications to the contrary (e.g. the whole movie Insomnia).

What I now wonder to my horror is how long it will be before an evidence sanitation department, what augments media evidence to the benefit of the prosecution, becomes a standard subdivision of every precinct.

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