Lancaster Cops Still Unclear On Public's Right To Record; Harass Same Citizen Who Recorded Them Last Week

from the there's-a-culture-problem-here dept

Apparently, the statement from a Lancaster, PA police spokesman that citizens are allowed to film on-duty police officers hasn't made its way to the entire staff yet. Carlos Miller at PINAC reports that Paul Dejesus, the same man who had an officer walk away from taking an accident report because he was being filmed, was again approached by a police officer who demanded he stop filming because recording his voice "violated" Pennsylvania's wiretapping laws.

Less than a week after a Pennsylvania man posted a video showing a Lancaster cop refusing to take an accident report because the man insisted on his nephew recording the interaction, a story that was picked up by a national technology site as well as the local newspaper, another Lancaster police officer threatened to arrest the man on wiretapping charges, indicating a clear pattern of abuse of authority when it comes to the Constitutionally protected act of recording cops in public.

Fortunately, Paul Dejesus knew his rights and was not afraid to assert them, even after the cop gave up on the wiretapping threat and began threatening him with disorderly conduct, which is the usual catch-all charge for contempt of cop.

But Dejesus slapped that threat down by pointing out he was recording from his own yard.

But if he was recording from a public sidewalk, he still wouldn't have been guilty of disorderly conduct in that state.
The officer tries a little ad hoc prior restraint by shining his flashlight at Dejesus' camera, a tactic that's deployed frequently by cops wishing to stay unrecorded.

These actions directly contradict the statement given by police spokeman Sgt. William Hickey.
"It is not illegal to film police in the course of their duties, as long as you are not interfering with them doing their job..."

City officers are instructed during ongoing in-service sessions that citizens are allowed to film them doing their jobs, Hickey says.

Case law has established that right, and officers should not inform a citizen otherwise, Hickey says.

"It's reasonable to expect, at any given time, anybody could be filmed," Hickey says. "There are traffic cameras, cameras at ATMs, even most of our patrol vehicles are equipped with dash cams.

"You are under surveillance no matter where you go."
Hickey's not lying about the surveillance. Lancaster is somewhat infamous for the number of surveillance cameras it has installed, which surpasses the number installed by many larger cities like San Francisco and Boston. Not only that, but the system is manned by volunteers including, at one point, someone who had been convicted of stalking, harassment and impersonating a public official.

The fact that everyone in Lancaster is "under surveillance" (from the mouth of the PD PR himself) means that the police, who "benefit" from this camera system, are the last people who should be granting themselves an "expectation of privacy" in order to wave off pesky citizens and their recording devices.

These cops backed off when the usual stuff didn't work, but there's obviously still a disconnect between the PD spokesman's calming statements and the actual attitude of the rank-and-file.

Reader Comments

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  1. identicon
    Not Amish (sigh), 14 Oct 2013 @ 1:11pm

    Small correction

    Mike, small clarification/correction from someone who grew up in the area (in Manheim Township, in fact):

    Both your original article, the LancasterOnline article, and this current article seem to refer to the Lancaster (City) Policy Department, but the last article has a quote from the Manheim Township PD spokesman.

    I haven't quite been able to figure out with 100% certainty which entity these reports are referring to.

    These are two distinct, independent districts: Lancaster PD actually only patrols/is responsible for the urban city limits of Lancaster, whereas MT is a suburb adjacent to the city with territory bordering on, but independent of the city.

    Which one is actually at fault here?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Me, 14 Oct 2013 @ 1:16pm

    Scumbags cops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Colin, 14 Oct 2013 @ 1:19pm

    He even got a "photography is not a crime" plug in there. Well played.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2013 @ 1:28pm

    perhaps Obama needs to get planes flying all around the country with banners on them explaining the right for citizens to film public servants?

    at least he would be able to say he put the 4th Amendment 'right up there'!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Zem, 14 Oct 2013 @ 1:47pm

    You know, you could just increase police salaries and lift the education level required to be a police officer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    loaderboy (profile), 14 Oct 2013 @ 2:23pm



    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2013 @ 3:23pm


    And that would be great, but it would do nothing to lift the emotional level: most police officers are thugs, gang members, psycopaths, control freaks, etc. That's why they get a badge: so that they can indulge their freakishly sadistic tendencies under the cover of law. So yes, more education would be great, but we also need psych screening to disqualify the insane who currently make up most police forces.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Oct 2013 @ 3:42pm


    Because guys with six figure salaries and 4 year degrees can't be power tripping douchebags too?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 14 Oct 2013 @ 3:53pm

    Words are meaningless, actions are what matters

    Police spokesmen, chiefs, any of them reassuring people that recording police on the job isn't a crime makes for a nice sound-bite, but until they actually punish those officers that do it anyway, it's all nothing but smoke and mirrors, something to make people feel that their rights will be respected, while doing nothing at all to ensure such.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    PRMan, 14 Oct 2013 @ 4:31pm

    Re: Re:

    MOST police officers are not thugs. In most departments the number runs less than 10%. But they make a bad name for everyone else.

    Source: I used to write software for cops.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    lucidrenegade (profile), 14 Oct 2013 @ 5:03pm

    I wish he would have kept the camera on the cop the whole time. ... and that the women would have shut up so I could hear what the cop was saying.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), 14 Oct 2013 @ 6:04pm

    Re: Small correction

    I believe it's the Lancaster PD. I included a policy statement (PDF) from the Manheim Township in the last post, but the quoted PD statement (added in the update) was from someone referred to as simply "city police spokesman." (That's the same spokesman quoted in this post.)

    So, the Manheim policy may be irrelevant, but in both cases, this appears to involve Lancaster City PD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    JustMe (profile), 15 Oct 2013 @ 5:45am

    Harsh review for Techdirt

    "a national technology site" indeed! How degrading. I know there are at least one or two regular visitors who arrive from overseas. That makes this place INTERNATIONAL. Sheesh

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Dood, 15 Oct 2013 @ 6:49am

    Oh the irony

    If you watch the video at the :15 second mark you can see them standing directly under a light pole camera. Gotta love it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Lurker Keith, 15 Oct 2013 @ 8:31am

    Re: Harsh review for Techdirt

    Doesn't Techdirt have people who post articles from both Canada & the UK (I remember reading stuff form regulars who are talking about their countries)? Forget visitors, TD might be internationally staffed!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Phelps, 15 Oct 2013 @ 9:53am

    Re: Re: Re:

    The problem with this thinking is that it is the JOB of the other 90% to turn the thugs in. That they don't makes them ALL thugs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    wodun, 15 Oct 2013 @ 10:03am


    You know cops make good money right? Especially when you add in benefits. In fact, the high compensation in relation to low education draws a lot of people.

    I agree with boosting education requirements.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Howard Roark, 15 Oct 2013 @ 10:10am

    Re: Obama planes with banners

    Is this the same Obama who uses drones to kill people guilty of being male while living in a Muslim country?

    Is this the same Obama whose NSA collects every email sent/received in the US?

    Is this the same Obama whose IRS targets political opponents?

    Is this the same Obama who won his US Senate seat in Illinois by leaking the sealed divorce records of his opponent?

    The Obama you hope will fix the problem is THE leader of the thuggish government. And approves of the thuggishness.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Ned, 15 Oct 2013 @ 10:24am


    Given that he put a filmmaker in jail for the crime of embarrassing him I doubt Obama would be very interested in making sure the citizenry knows its rights. The guy rules completely by fiat and without any consideration of the law in almost every regard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Ted Moore, 15 Oct 2013 @ 12:01pm

    Re: Most are not bad cops

    It is a tough job and the worst part of it is dealing with the dirt of our society. There are several categories: Officers of the Law, Policemen, cops, and pigs. Most officers work in the upper echelon of that but exposure to the worst affects them. Worst thing is that Police will stick up for pigs, and civilian bosses will throw them under the bus trying to make themselves look good. We make their job close to impossible by insisting on standards that we would not impose upon ourselves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Ted Moore, 15 Oct 2013 @ 12:10pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I will believe that when the rest of us do that. When school teachers rag teachers who abuse their students instead of backing teachers no matter what. When politicians start telling the truth instead of pointing somewhere else. When workers rag on people who are 'carried' by their peers. When people walking by crime quit ignoring it.

    Since that day will never come, excuse me if I am grateful for the few who hold to all their standards in every walk of life. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 15 Oct 2013 @ 2:46pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Lots of people do adhere to those standards in their personal and professional lives. But the police are a special case. The police have extraordinary, easily-abused power over all of us and as such, they must be held (and hold each other) to a much higher standard than most of us.

    As it is, they're pretty much held to a lower standard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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