Yes, passers-by have the right to film the police | Jersey Journal Editorial


“Give me your movie! “

Many older journalists undoubtedly have a story or two about taking pictures with 35mm film on a news scene and being harassed by a police officer who illegally demanded that the film be taken. either removed from the camera and returned or displayed for destruction.

Over the past few years and to the present day, journalists have told stories of police demanding – again, illegally – that they stop filming with their digital cameras and cellphones, delete what they are doing. have filmed and return their devices.

But it’s not just journalists.

Thanks to the proliferation of smartphones, passers-by on the streets pull out their phones to film when they see something of interest happening, including when the police make arrests.

Indeed, recordings by members of the public have been crucial in recent years in cases like the murder of George Floyd and the suffocating death of Eric Garner.

When the police try to prevent a passerby or a reporter from recording in this way, they are not only wrong, they are also violating a basic American right.

It doesn’t matter if it’s something major or something small, like a fender-bender. The principle is the same. In this country, the Constitution protects the press and indeed anyone in the public from being in a public place and taking photos and videos.

New Jersey Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck last week reaffirmed that right in a strongly worded directive to law enforcement agencies and county prosecutors.

We applaud Bruck for taking this step.

By reminding the police and the public of this right, he has taken an important step in preventing abuse of power.

“Freedom of speech is a fundamental American principle,” he wrote in the directive. “Loyalty to this right – embodied in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution – has distinguished our country throughout its history. “

Most of the directive spells out the public’s right to record an officer’s conduct and notes that as long as the person is a bystander, has the legal right to be on the scene – for example, on a public sidewalk or in their own home – and does not interfere with the safety or the work of the police officer, the person has the right to film what is happening.

As stated in Bruck’s guideline:

“As long as the recording takes place in a setting in which the viewer has a legal right to be present and does not interfere with the safety or legal obligations of an agent, the agent must not:

“I. Tell the passer-by that recording police officers, police activities or persons subject to police action is not allowed.

“Ii. Tell a passerby that recording a police activity requires a permit or the consent of an officer.

“Iii. Threatening, intimidating, ordering to cease or otherwise discourage a bystander from staying nearby, recording or verbally commenting on the conduct of an officer in the course of official business.

“Iv. Carry out an investigative check or bystander arrest only on the basis that the bystander records police conduct.

“V. Ask for the identification of the passer-by.

“Vi. Demand that the viewer indicate a reason why the viewer is recording.

“Vii. Detaining, arresting, or threatening to arrest a spectator based on an activity protected by the First Amendment, including, but not limited to, verbal criticism of the spectator, questioning of police actions, legal registration of agents or gestures.

“Viii. Intentionally block or obstruct recording devices. Agents are not required to position themselves in such a way as to provide individuals with better angles or views when recording, but may not deliberately obstruct actions in public from the perspective of those recording.

The directive then notes the following limitations:

“1. Nothing in this directive shall prevent officers from interviewing or detaining for a reasonable period any person whom they reasonably suspect of having committed, is in the process of committing or is about to commit a crime or to incite others to break the law.

2. The fact that a spectator has a recording device does not entitle him to cross a police line, enter an area closed to the public or enter any area designated as a crime scene. .

“I. Accredited media personnel may be granted closer access to incident scenes or be permitted to cross police lines with approvals from the relevant law enforcement agencies. This right is not extended. to anyone who has not received such approval.

“3. If a spectator registers police activity from a position which impedes or materially impedes the safety of officers or their ability to perform their duties, or which threatens the safety of members of the public, an officer may order the spectator to move to a position that will not interfere. However, the officer should not order the viewer to stop recording.

“I. NJSA 2C: 29-1 continues to prohibit conduct by which a person willfully (a)” obstruct or pervert the administration of law or other government function “, or (b)” prevent or attempt to prevent an official from legally exercising a function by means of flight, intimidation, force, violence or interference or physical obstacle, or by means of any independently unlawful act. “

We are reprinting most of the directive to help readers know their rights.

As journalists, we know that over the years, industry professionals who knew the law and their rights – thanks to newsroom veterans, publication lawyers, and / or the ACLU – reportedly reacted to illegal requests from a standing policeman, calling the cop on what law, exactly, was cited in the situation. If necessary, they would have called their editors who, in turn, called their lawyers to stop the drift.

Some went to jail for a few hours or more until a judge let the police know how wrong they had been.

Those who did not know the law, were too intimidated or feared for their own safety would have complied, forever losing the photos they had legally taken.

It is essential that all those involved know and respect the public’s right to record the actions of the police.

Send letters to the editor and guest columns of the Jersey Journal at [email protected].

About Julius Southworth

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