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."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.
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.]
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.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.
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
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.