These days, it’s common to see people whipping out their iphones and cameras at concerts, sporting events, and movie premieres. In fact, how many times have we seen amateur video on TV, TMZ, YouTube or elsewhere on the internet where police are being recorded by handheld video devices? Sure, we only see these videos when the police or the suspects they are apprehending have engaged in some outrageous or embarrassing conduct. But there are cases when this video footage is critical to prove the innocence (or guilt) of a suspect. And of course, as usual, the law follows lightning speed technology at a snail’s pace.
But have hope. Cases are beginning to emerge where judges are dismissing charges against people taking video of the police during an arrest of investigation. These amateur videographers have been arrested for CGS 53a-181 Breach of Peace or 53a-167a Interference with a Police Investigation. Police claim these onlookers threaten the safety of the arresting officers and further jeopardize the criminal investigation. Critics claim it is a violation of a person’s constitutional right to record a public arrest.
Well, the issue has recently been debated in Connecticut legal circles—specifically, whether recording the police in public is in fact legal.
It should be legal. Here’s why…
As reported this week in The Stamford Advocate, the State of Connecticut’s Judiciary Committee recently approved a bill which not only endorses a person’s right to record police “from a safe distance” but adds a further right of the person to sue officers and municipalities to sue officers who interfere with their right to record. The proposed law passed through the Committee by a 27-12 vote, and now they are waiting for the House of Representatives and Senate to vote.
Some have argued that it’s a double standard for police. They are permitted to record you during the entire arrest process; however, the police get irritated when you try to video them. It’s no secret that police stations are equipped with video and audio surveillance cameras covering almost every square foot of the station. Police cars now come equipped with dashboard cameras to record traffic stops and DWI sobriety tests. And now police have gone a step further, instituting a program to attach surveillance cameras to their uniform.
So what’s the problem with the Average Joe Citizen turning the cameras around on police? You have to wonder where the resistance is coming from. The biggest complaint from police seems to be the potential threat these amateur videographers pose to the criminal investigation itself. If police are distracted by onlookers waving cameras in their faces, then how are they supposed to focus on safely apprehending a suspected criminal—especially one who is resisting an arrest and threatening the safety of fellow officers or innocent bystanders. Police argue that these people who meddle in an arrest process should be charged and arrested for Interfering with a Police Investigation under CGS 53a-167a, or Breach of Peace in the Second Degree under CGS 53a-181. This is a fair point, and most of the expert criminal lawyers in Stamford, Greenwich, and Darien would agree that some latitude and discretion should be given to police to be able to arrest onlookers who threaten the safety of the police and an investigation. But for the guy videotaping from across the street from a traffic stop arrest…well, they clearly do not pose a threat to anyone and should be able to freely record what they are watching.
This issue recently came to a head in East Haven, Connecitcut when a church leader was arrested while recording the arrest of two Hispanic people. The church official believed he was documenting police abuse and racism. The police arrested the church leader for 53a-181 Disorderly Conduct and 53a-167a Interfering with Police because they believed he was holding an “unknown shiny” object and that he resisted when officers tried to take the object from him. The object was obviously a camera and the charges were eventually dropped.
Lessons learned from this case and from the discussion of the legislature is that if you are going to record the police, you should indeed do it from a “safe distance” and not interfere, distract, or jeopardize either the arrest, investigation, or safety of the police officers involved. While you have a right to record in public, you need to remember the police have a duty to protect themselves, the community, the suspect, and even you. So proceed carefully when recording.
The Stamford 53a-181 Disorderly Conduct lawyers at Mark Sherman Law regularly handle and defend their clients against charges of 53a-181 Disorderly Conduct and 53a-167a Interference with Police / Resisting Arrest, whether or not the allegations arise from a dispute over recording the police during an arrest or traffic stop, arise during a domestic violence incident, or otherwise. So if you are facing Disorderly Conduct or Interference charges in Stamford, Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, or anywhere else in Fairfield County Connecticut, give us a call today at (203) 358-4700.