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Filming the Police

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In March 2010, Newark teenager, Khaliah Fitchette, filmed two Newark police officers attempting to help a man who collapsed on the bus. Another passenger expressed concern that he would be late for work so Fitchette recorded the incident so the man would have proof for his boss. Seems harmless enough as Fitchette is well within her rights to do so and was not impeding any officers from doing their job. The officers in question thought otherwise. They illegally detained the teen and denied her from calling her mother despite her protests to be allowed to do so.

The Newark Police Department then put forth a policy that formally protected citizens’ right to film police officers in public spaces. The policy was a result of a settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) after they filed a lawsuit, in conjunction with Seton Hall Law Center, on behalf of Khaliah Fitchette. There were no sanctions involved for the arresting officers or anyone in the department in relation to Fitchette’s case but the sergeant who told the arresting officers to charge Fitchette was fired over another incident.

In another case that was decided by an appellate court in 2012, Kelly Ramos, a documentary film maker, was told to stop filming several times by the Trenton police, in particular, Officer Herbert Flowers. Ramos asserted that his first amendment right had been treaded on but Flowers attempted to get off on qualified immunity. The appellate court sided with Ramos and stated that he had a right to film the police in public as long as he was not impeding their work, which he was not.

It is the right of citizens to film police officers in public with or without their consent. It is important to understand your rights as a citizen and assert them when necessary. We do however advise you to be polite to the police officers present and attempt to explain your right to film in the most congenial way possible. Do not attempt to disturb the officers or affect their work in any way possible as that is obstruction of justice. If the police officer in question does not cooperate and strongly insists that you put your recording device away, be sure to make it clear that you are doing so under duress and close the device. If you continue to record there is a risk of illegal detainment. If you choose this option, do not resist arrest and be sure to use a device that can save your videos on another device or online until you can access them, should anything happen to your phone. Be sure to request a lawyer and avoid showing the officers your video until your lawyer is present.

The law is meant to protect all citizens and must be followed by all citizens as well. Be sure to respect the law enforcement officers who work hard to keep the streets safe and the rules enforcement but do not let anyone tread on your rights.

Sources

Nallin, Judith. "Ramos v. Flowers." New Jersey Law Journal. ALM Media Properties, LLC, 26 Sept. 2012. Web. 10 July 2014. .

Queally, James. "Newark police settle case with teen illegally detained for filming cops." NJ.com. New Jersey On-Line LLC, 19 Nov. 2012. Web. 10 July 2014. .

"Recording Police Officers and Public Officials." Digital Media Law Project. Digital Media Law Project, 18 Dec. 2013. Web. 10 July 2014. .

Silverman, Steve. "7 Rules for Recording Police." Gizmodo. Gawker Media, 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 10 July 2014. .

Joseph M. Ghabour
Auto, Bus, Pedestrian, Motorcycle accident, medical malpractice and worker's compensation attorney.
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