The Public’s Right To Record Police ActivitiesPosted: April 27, 2013
Last Tuesday, April 23, the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government (“CFOG“) sponsored a panel discussion on the public’s right to record police activities. It was my honor, as the president of CFOG, to moderate the panel discussion, which featured Chief States Attorney Kevin Kane, South Windsor Chief of Police Matthew Reed, Mickey Osterreicher (General Counsel for the National Press Photographer’s Association), Ben Solnit of the ACLU of Connecticut (sitting in for Sandy Staub, ACLU legal director), and Mario Cerame, creator of www.righttorecord.com, a blog that covers this issue. We had a great discussion. For anyone interested in this topic, video of the discussion is available here on CT-N.
The discussion was quite topical. For the third time in three years, Senator Martin Looney of New Haven is attempting to get legislation passed that would create a statutory right to sue a police officer who interferes with a citizen’s right to record police activities, subject to certain exceptions. Here is the text of the bill:
Section 1. (NEW) (Effective October 1, 2013) (a) For the purposes of this section, “peace officer” has the meaning provided in section 53a-3 of the general statutes.
b) A peace officer who interferes with any person taking a photographic or digital still or video image of such peace officer or another peace officer acting in the performance of such peace officer’s duties shall, subject to sections 5-141d, 7-465 and 29-8a of the general statutes, be liable to such person in an action at law, suit in equity or other proper proceeding for redress.
(c) A peace officer shall not be liable under subsection (b) of this section if the peace officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the peace officer was interfering with the taking of such image in order to (1) lawfully enforce a criminal law of this state or a municipal ordinance, (2) protect the public safety, (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation, (4) safeguard the privacy interests of any person, including a victim of a crime, or (5) lawfully enforce court rules and policies of the Judicial Branch with respect to taking a photograph, videotaping or otherwise recording an image in facilities of the Judicial Branch.
The panel debated the wisdom and necessity of the bill, particularly in light of several federal circuit court decisions recognizing a First Amendment right to record police activities. (See my previous post on those cases.) A good portion of the discussion, however, focused on the need for improved law enforcement training. That is, police departments need to do a much better job of training their officers to deal with members of the public and press who record police activities (e.g., arrests, traffic stops, ec.) in public areas.