Smile, you’re on cam­era

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

An­other fed­eral ap­peals court has ruled that peo­ple have a First Amend­ment right to video­tape po­lice in pub­lic and that it is il­le­gal for of­fi­cers to in­ter­fere with those do­ing so.

This is the sixth time a fed­eral ap­peals court has up­held the pub­lic’s right to pho­to­graph and film of­fi­cers in pub­lic. Even with­out the rul­ing, it would be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble, given the pro­lif­er­a­tion of smart­phones, for of­fi­cers to halt the video­tap­ing of ma­jor in­ci­dents un­fold­ing in crowded pub­lic set­tings.

In those sit­u­a­tions, there are too many peo­ple record­ing from too many an­gles for po­lice to shut down all record­ing.

The rul­ing is more likely to af­ford pro­tec­tion to the lone by­stander who pulls out a phone and starts film­ing.

Po­lice want their ver­sion of what tran­spires to be law, and they some­times dis­cour­age film­ing so they can con­trol the nar­ra­tive.

As the 3rd Cir­cuit ruled, how­ever, smart­phone video cuts both ways. It has some­times dis­cred­ited of­fi­cers’ con­duct and other times helped to clear them of wrong­do­ing.

The rul­ing isn’t fool­proof; peo­ple can­not in­ter­fere with of­fi­cers as they do their jobs, for ex­am­ple, or tres­pass on a crime scene. Also, of­fi­cers still could file bo­gus charges against some­one whose only of­fense was film­ing. But the greater un­der­stand­ing there is of this First Amend­ment right, the more po­lice will ac­cept it.

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