“Smile, Officer,” you’re on Candid Camera

New developments in modern technology, coupled with a burgeoning social media network and a 24/7 news cycle, have combined to create a cottage industry of  amateur videos that are shedding much-needed light on everything from politicians’ gaffes to police abuses.  And law enforcement officers especially are not taking kindly to the unwanted scrutiny.

Perhaps the most well known example of this is an incident that took place on a rail platform in Oakland, California on New Year’s Day in 2009. Transit officers were responding to a fight and while attempting to detain one of the suspects, who was unarmed; an officer pulled his weapon and fatally shot the man in the back. The incident was captured on video by witnesses, and later was used to convict the officer of involuntary manslaughter.

It may also be that the same video evidence saved the officer from a more serious charge, as experts in the trial testified he mistakenly thought he was pulling his taser, not his firearm.

Police irritation at being videoed when they don’t want to be, has led to a number of incidents where officers improperly have bullied citizen camera operators to stop recording.  This was the case earlier this year when United States Park Police stopped reporters from recording a protest against the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, where six members of the military handcuffed themselves to a gate in front of the White House.

Police offered no explanation to reporters as they hurried them away from the scene other than saying that Lafayette Park, a public area directly across the street from the White House, was “closed.”

So long as private citizens record what takes place in public, and do not in so doing actually interfere with an arrest or other legitimate law enforcement activity, they have every right to do so.  If the police or politicians have a problem with that because it might cause them embarrassment, then they probably shouldn’t have been doing what they were doing that prompted the recording in the first place.

Thankfully, there is something called the “First Amendment” that guarantees the citizen’s right to record what happens in public.  And, unfortunately, things have reached the point at which politicians and law enforcement alike need to be reminded of that.

54 comments Add your comment

Swede Atlanta

October 25th, 2010
9:02 am

The argument that the video doesn’t capture what led up to the police altercation is very weak. The courts have rules to manage the introduction of evidence in a manner that does not unjustly prejudice the party against whom it is being offered.

We are subject to being video taped all the time – both private and public surveillance cameras. So I don’t see why an officer of the law should have a problem being video recorded.


October 25th, 2010
12:41 pm

DK, you might want to re-read my comment. I didn’t smear anyone except those who irrationally hate cops. I am all for videotaping the police.

My comment was directed more towards my own anecdotal experiences with cops who don’t care if they are videotaped.


October 25th, 2010
2:07 pm

If the cops can have their dash-cams and video the traffic stop, why can’t the citizen being stopped have the same right? This is a public official doing their job. They have no right whatsoever to any kind of privacy. Better do your job properly, Mr. Cop.

A. J. C . Smith

October 26th, 2010
4:37 pm

Never underestimate the ability of a cop to throw his weight against you. They’re not all that way, but there is a tendency among many of them to let that badge go to their head. Those are the ones who need to be weeded out and promptly fired.