DC Court Dumps Police Union's Attempt To Block Release Of Recordings, Officers' Names Following Police Shootings

from the maybe-just-shoot-fewer-people-if-this-transparency-is-such-a-problem dept

Last year, a number of police reforms were passed by the city of Washington, DC. These efforts angered the Fraternal Order of Police -- which represents a number of DC Metro police officers -- enough for it to sue. It sued over two reforms in particular: the release of police recordings (body cam or otherwise) and the names of officers involved in shootings of residents.

The FOP insisted this was a bad idea. According to the union, releasing this information would place officers in danger. The FOP speculated making officers' names public would subject them to humiliation, possible armed retribution by city residents, and make it ever so slightly more difficult for them to be employed by other law enforcement agencies.

It also suggested releasing footage would violate the privacy rights of citizens, including victims and witnesses at the scene. And it insisted the entire thing reeked of due process violations, since there was a chance (probably a pretty good one) that officers would be cleared of any wrongdoing.

Well, the court has rejected all of the FOP's arguments and Metro PD officers are going to have to get used to the new level of transparency that now surrounds their use of deadly force. The court likes exactly zero of the FOP's arguments. First, the court [PDF] points out the police union has no standing to bring this suit, no matter which version of standing it attempts to use.

Speculating that the FOP will be involved in more defense of officers accused of wrongdoing following use-of-force incidents isn't an injury the court's willing to recognize. (And it's unclear how releasing footage and names would result in more litigation or internal investigations.)

Simply stating that more resources will be expended is insufficient because the passing of the Temporary Act did not prevent the plaintiffs from performing tasks or actions that they previously could prior the Temporary Act.

[...]

Further, plaintiff’s alleged future injuries are too speculative to establish organizational standing. The plaintiff alleges that it will have to expended resources to challenge improper transfers of Detectives, but as the defendants pointed out, such an allegation is based a series of potential future events. It is not concrete or imminent injury when the allegations involve a chain of events that essentially start from the Mayor’s release of the footage, to less witnesses willing to testify, to a more difficult investigation, to a lower closure rate, to potential transfers or disciplinary action, and then to plaintiff’s decision whether to represent the officer, assuming that the officer is one of plaintiff’s members. [...] Therefore, plaintiff’s pure speculation about potential future harm is insufficient to establish organizational standing.

The court says the FOP also can't sue because it feels release of footage will infringe on the privacy rights of residents who aren't cops.

In the Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the Temporary Act will infringe on the rights of citizens of the District, such as infringing on their privacy rights. However, it is unclear how the plaintiff can establish a close relationship with every member of the general public who are not members of the plaintiff’s organization. Furthermore, there is no allegation of any “hindrance” to the ability of the public to protect their own interests.

There's no associational standing either.

In the Amended Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the release of the camera footage and names of officers will result in “unjust reputational harm, result in “immediate risk of a significant bodily harm,” and lead to “psychological trauma” to an officer and his/her family. However, these allegations are purely speculation and conclusory allegations that the Court has no obligation to accept under the relevant standards. The pure possibility that something might happen does not constitute an injury.

In addition, there's nothing connecting this speculation to the actions of the city government, which passed the order governing the release of footage and names.

Further, the Amended Complaint also fails to allege how any alleged injuries can be “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s actions. The defendants are not in control of public opinion and cannot be held responsible if a citizen or citizens criticizes or condemns an officer’s use of force in a particular incident.

The court saves the best for last in this dismissal. It dispenses with the union's due process violation allegations by pointing out there's no difference between the officers' body cameras and cameras operated by citizens. You can't say one is protected speech but the other somehow violates the privacy rights of police officers.

In Count II, the plaintiffs contend that Subtitle B of the Temporary Act “violates the fundamental right to privacy held by D.C. Police Union members.” Specifically, the immediate public release of names of officers and body-worn camera footage “will allow criminal suspects and their associates to identify the officer and potentially seek retribution.” First and foremost, there is “no authority that the Constitution imposes on the government an affirmative duty—untethered to specific constitutional provisions such as the First Amendment—to ‘safeguard personal information’ from the criminal acts of third parties.”

Importantly, as the defendants mentioned, MPD policy explicitly states that members of the general public have a First Amendment right to record MPD members during official business, unless they interfere with police activity. See MPD General Order 304-19 at § 1. If the public is legally able to record officers during official business, it is unclear how any reasonable officer can assume that they have the right to privacy when conducting said official business.

The lawsuit is dismissed. Presumably this will be appealed, but even when given two chances to fill a lawsuit with actionable claims and firmly establish standing, the FOP failed. Once this is appealed, it's stuck with the arguments that have already failed once. It should probably save its time and money for future Hail Mary litigation in the event of impending release of footage and names.

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Filed Under: body cameras, dc metro police, fraternal order of police, police, police recordings, police unions, transparency


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Jul 2021 @ 6:37pm

    Have you tried not assaulting/murdering so many people?

    People getting upset over video evidence of the police brutalizing and/or murdering members of the public and then getting more upset when the police(and especially their unions) try to brush it under the rug is not a bug, that's a feature. If police don't want the public to be so angry with them maybe stop doing stuff that infuriates the public so often.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 1:09am

      Re: Have you tried not assaulting/murdering so many people?

      Give the poor boys in blue a break, will ya? The idea that the public might be upset with police officers guilty of manslaughter and murder isn't far-fetched at all. The police unions are right about that much.

      "If police don't want the public to be so angry with them maybe stop doing stuff that infuriates the public so often."

      When did going to the schoolyard bully and telling him "Look, Jimmy, if you stop beating the other kids up and taking their lunch money maybe they won't be that angry with you" ever work?

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

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 12:54pm

        Re: Re: Have you tried not assaulting/murdering so many people?

        Give the poor boys in blue a break, will ya? The idea that the public might be upset with police officers guilty of manslaughter and murder isn't far-fetched at all. The police unions are right about that much.

        Sure, where they're wrong is their attempts to shift the blame for that anger onto the public rather than the police which is very much solving the wrong problem. If an accurate record of what you do in your taxpayer funded job angers the public the problem is almost certainly not on their end but yours, which makes the excuse to try to hold those records back a flimsy one at best.

        When did going to the schoolyard bully and telling him "Look, Jimmy, if you stop beating the other kids up and taking their lunch money maybe they won't be that angry with you" ever work?

        So long as they have no reason to care what people think about them it doesn't, but even then it does rather nicely undercut any attempt at garnering sympathy for being 'unfairly treated' they might engage in by pointing out that people have a very good reason to be pissed at the bully/'victim'.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 3 Aug 2021 @ 5:46am

          Re: Re: Re: Have you tried not assaulting/murdering so many peop

          "Sure, where they're wrong is their attempts to shift the blame for that anger onto the public rather than the police which is very much solving the wrong problem."

          For all that I'm often the one reminding people that Poe's Law reigns supreme, sometimes I too fall afoul of the naíve idea that "Oh, no one's going to mistake this for anything but dark sarcasm". But there you go...

          "So long as they have no reason to care what people think about them it doesn't..."

          ...and making sure people don't get to know the facts simplifies that mission statement enormously. Yeah. I once used to say "The US certainly is an interesting place. Later on i began saying "Nice place but wouldn't want to live there". Today it's "Not going there. Ever.".

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

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 3 Aug 2021 @ 1:01pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Have you tried not assaulting/murdering so many

            For all that I'm often the one reminding people that Poe's Law reigns supreme, sometimes I too fall afoul of the naíve idea that "Oh, no one's going to mistake this for anything but dark sarcasm". But there you go...

            Oh I got that you were being sarcastic but given the union is making that argument with a straight face I felt it was worth addressing it.

            ...and making sure people don't get to know the facts simplifies that mission statement enormously. Yeah. I once used to say "The US certainly is an interesting place. Later on i began saying "Nice place but wouldn't want to live there". Today it's "Not going there. Ever.".

            These days I'd sadly have to agree with you. Between the nurgle cultists keeping a plague alive and mutating so it can hit saner people, countless deranged trump cultists(with a hefty crossover with the previous group I'm sure) clinging to the idea that they never lost the last election and a government sanctioned gang in the form of US police that can gun you down on a whim and have pretty good odds of getting away with it I absolutely could not in good conscience recommend anyone visit the US unless they really needed to. Find another country to vacation in, this one isn't in the best shape at the moment.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2021 @ 1:23am

    blue lies mafia still don't have a clue

    maybe if they learned to keep there bullets in there guns and there hands off of people they wouldn't have so many problems.....

    as for the whole privacy, due process, retaliation bit. the blue lies mafia don't give a flying fuck about any of that when it comes to those that they claim to "serve and protect!" they will put victims on blast, coverup police misconduct, and do everything possible to protect there own! also they are quick to put video when it makes them look good. otherwise it's the whole "we investigated ourselves and found that we did nothing wrong!

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

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 31 Jul 2021 @ 1:39am

      Re: blue lies mafia still don't have a clue

      What's the difference between a police officer and a bullet? When a bullet kills someone else, you know it's been fired. :/

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2021 @ 2:17am

    blue lies mafia still don't have a clue

    maybe if they learned to keep there bullets in there guns and there hands off of people they wouldn't have so many problems.....

    as for the whole privacy, due process, retaliation bit. the blue lies mafia don't give a flying fuck about any of that when it comes to those that they claim to "serve and protect!" they will put victims on blast, coverup police misconduct, and do everything possible to protect there own! also they are quick to put video when it makes them look good. otherwise it's the whole "we investigated ourselves and found that we did nothing wrong!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2021 @ 6:18am

    Is there actually an example of a person who was brutalized retaliating violently against the specific officer who victimized them? Or an example where a person was shot and killed and someone then killed the officer in revenge?

    I can't think of any. There are certainly plenty of instances of someone shooting cops in revenge, but I can't think of one where someone hunted down a specific cop for something (outside of one cop hunting down their cop spouse and murdering them in a domestic violence incident).

    For how many people the cops kill and brutalize it's actually pretty amazing this doesn't happen more often. You'd think they'd be disgusted with their colleagues whose on duty behavior potentially puts fellow officers at risk of a random revenge shooting, but that's just beyond them being able to comprehend.

    And like was pointed out, want to reduce litigation costs? Just release the fucking footage instead of making people sue for it.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 1:14am

      Re:

      "Or an example where a person was shot and killed and someone then killed the officer in revenge?"

      Not often. It might be something a lawman in Texas and Oklahoma might have had to worry about in the 18th century but certainly not today. Most relatives of victims of police brutality end up taking their case to lawyers and the media instead.

      Arguably the police themselves consider that retaliation even fouler play. At least if the shooter with a badge gets shot the unions can push for even more immunities.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2021 @ 7:23am

    Shoe fits

    Police share the names and addresses of citizens that "annoy" them, and they can't pull out of their driveway without getting pulled over. Seems these upstanding representatives of "law and order" have forgotten the fact that the people should not fear the government, the government should fear the people.

    I grew up in South Texas. We had a cop that wanted to "passionately" hug 12 year old girls and always got away with it in court. One day, a girl "killed herself" "over her violation". This cop strutted around and said "Any 'bint' (he used a much cruder word) that holds out on ME will get worse!". (There was some question if it was suicide or murder.) Lets just say that the remaining cops got to be respectful there after.

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

  • icon
    Aaron Walkhouse (profile), 31 Jul 2021 @ 8:36am

    Hmmm…

    "FOPs" sounds just about right for these "officials"… ; ]

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 31 Jul 2021 @ 9:42am

    Its strange that

    We the people get lots of cameras on our privacy.
    But they have the rights to have them fail?
    To have recordings disappear.

    But we, think its cool to have them record 1 time in 10 years something important(if it ever does).

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

  • icon
    amberlink (profile), 31 Jul 2021 @ 6:20pm

    They're paying the lawyers with taxpayer money

    What does it serve them NOT to appeal? It's not as if the cops are spending their own money. This is taxpayer money they're spending for appeal and lawyer fees. Maybe if they were spending their own money and not the public's the frivolous lawsuits and endless appeals would stop.

    Perhaps changing the law that if a police force wants to sue, they should be required to use their own FOP money and not the public funds, would be more helpful in stopping unnecessary appeals.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Jul 2021 @ 10:44pm

      Re: They're paying the lawyers with taxpayer money

      I thought that's what was explained. The FOP does have to use their money when the officer is fired and loses the support of the government. Then when they're let off by a lazy subservient jury they can hit the arbitrator for back pay. It's possible some unions might have contracts that require the department to pay legal fees if the cop skates, but they have plenty of money to the point they spend it just to say fuck you to the rest of us. They even hire fired cops who are suspended without pay or on trial for menial jobs at their lodge just to remind people they can do whatever they want.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Aug 2021 @ 4:17am

    I'm reminded of a comman term in Police parlance:

    "Don't do the crime if you can't do the time"

    Then there will be absolutely no "harm" caused by having your activities recorded or publicised. You may even get branded a hero...

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

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 2 Aug 2021 @ 12:15pm

    This won't happen again...

    In the Complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the Temporary Act will infringe on the rights of citizens of the District

    This is the most surprising part to me, that the FOP has not only admitted that citizens have rights, but that they pretend here to actually be concerned about them!

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


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