Monday, August 9, 2010

Of Course Cops Don't Support Being Recorded

Radley Balko has written a lot about the trouble citizens encounter when they attempt to tape on-duty law enforcement. Today he posted an article in which he interviewed three law enforcement officials to get their take. Unsurprisingly they all support punishing citizens that record on-duty cops.

"You have 960,000 police officers in this country, and millions of contacts between those officers and citizens. I’ll bet you can’t name 10 incidents where a citizen video has shown a police officer to have lied on a police report," Pasco says. "Letting people record police officers is an extreme and intrusive response to a problem that’s so rare it might as well not exist. It would be like saying we should do away with DNA evidence because there’s a one in a billion chance that it could be wrong. At some point, we have to put some faith and trust in our authority figures."

We should have some trust in our authority figures, but we are fools if we don't take prudent steps to monitor them to ensure they are not abusing their position (if only their were some sort of appropriate Latin phrase for this).

The broader point I want to make, though, is that of course cops are not going to favor allowing citizens to record them. No one stands up and says, "I am in favor of more oversight of my activities." That's perfectly natural. No one goes to their boss and says, "Hey, can you stand over my shoulder a bit more to monitor what I'm doing?" No one wants to feel like someone else is scrutinizing their every move. But the more power someone has, the more important it is for checks to be on that person to ensure that abuse does not occur. Trying to criminalize the recording of officers while on the job only makes it look like the cops have something to hide, that they can't be trusted. And if they are doing their job properly, what do they have to hide?

This is, of course, to say nothing of the ludicrous notion that taking pictures and recording events in a public arena can in any way be illegal.

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