Radley Balko has been covering the issue of citizens who take videos of cops and get arrested for it. It’s only illegal in a few states (including Maryland and Illinois) but that doesn’t mean you can’t get arrested for it anywhere. In Radley’s latest piece, he interviews two prosecutors and the head of the Fraternal Order of Police, and they say some of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.
Start with Joseph Cassilly, a prosecutor in Hartford County, Maryland:
“The officer having his gun drawn or being on a public roadway has nothing to do with it,” Cassilly says. “Neither does the fact that what Mr. Graber said during the stop could be used in court. That’s not the test. The test is whether police officers can expect some of the conversations they have while on the job to remain private and not be recorded and replayed for the world to hear.”
In the Graber case, he was making a helmet cam video while riding on his motorcycle when a motorist cut him off and jumped out waving a gun. This crazy motorist turned out to be Maryland State Trooper Joseph David Ulher, driving an unmarked car and dressed nothing like a cop. This was all caught on the helmet cam.
Now Cassilly is prosecuting Graber for violating the wiretapping laws. Apparently, Cassilly thinks a cop somehow has a right to privacy even when he intrusively inserts himself into a video that started recording before he got there.
The second badgelicker is right here in Illinois. Here’s the background:
Crawford County State’s Attorney Tom Wiseman is currently bringing five felony charges against Michael Allison, a 41-year-old construction worker who recorded police officers and other public officials he thought were harassing him.
Now here comes the crazy:
“The only person doing any harassing here is Mr. Allison, who was harassing our public officials with his tape recorder,” Wiseman says. “They may have problems with some bad police officers in some of your urban areas. But we don’t have those problems around here. All of our cops around here are good cops. This is a small town. Everyone knows everyone. If we had a bad police officer here, we’d know about it, I’d know about it, and he’d be out. There’s just no reason for anyone to feel they need to record police officers in Crawford County.”
You say something as stupid as “we don’t have those problems around here. All of our cops around here are good cops,” and you expect us to just take your word for it? And obviously there was a reason for someone to “feel they need to record police officers in Crawford County,” because somebody did. That feeling may not be justified, but without the recording, how would anybody know?
The king of the badgelickers is Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police. His job is to stand up for the cops regardless of whether they’re right or wrong, so he says the stupidest things by far:
Pasco, who supports these arrests, says he’s worried that video could be manipulated to make police officers look bad. “There’s no chain of custody with these videos,” Pasco says. “How do you know the video hasn’t been edited? How do we know what’s in the video hasn’t been taken out of context?
When a witness testifies that the defendant assaulted him, how do we know he’s not lying? I think this is one of the reasons we have trials and lawyers and judges and juries, to figure out these kinds of things.
With dashboard cameras or police security video, the evidence is in the hands of law enforcement the entire time, so it’s admissible under the rules of evidence. That’s not the case with these cell phone videos.”
Really? So if I witnessed, say, three gang members beating down a cop on a subway platform and I recorded it on my cellphone, I could testify to what I saw, but the video would be totally useless to the prosecutor? No one has ever made a case off an unofficial video? How stupid does Pasco think we are?
But what about cases where video clearly contradicts police reports, such as the McKenna case in College Park?
“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,”
And if it’s illegal to make videos of police on the job, we’ll never be able to.
“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.”
Uh, the malfeasance rate among cops is a lot higher than 1-in-a-billion. Just here in Chicago, we’ve had cops taking bribes, cops robbing stores, cops running hookers, cops working for street gangs, cops running jewelry theft rings, and cops killing people for money. On average, seven Chicago police officers each year are prosecuted for crimes. Are we supposed to believe that these guys wouldn’t fudge their reports?
Heck, my last traffic ticket, the cop changed his story between the time he stopped me and the time he testified in court. It was probably an honest mistake, but if I’d been rolling video, he wouldn’t have gotten away with it. Video doesn’t just catch lying cops. It also catches honest mistakes and keeps them from corrupting the justice system.
“At some point, we have to put some faith and trust in our authority figures.”
Yes, at some point we do, but why rely on faith and trust in the kinds of situations where we can have evidence?
I mention Michael Allison’s case to Pasco, and ask if he supports the Illinois law.
“I don’t know anything about that case, but generally it sounds like a sensible law and a sensible punishment,” Pasco says. “Police officers don’t check their civil rights at the station house door.”
Maybe not, but there is no right to privacy in a public place. That’s why it’s called “public.”
We’re talking about the right of ordinary citizens to make video recordings in a public place. In general, if you or I are out on the street and we discover someone is making a video of us, there’s nothing we can do about it. Anybody can roll video at any time as long as they’re not trespassing. How do you think all those celebrity gossip shows get videos of Lindsay Lohan behaving scandalously? How do you think 60-minutes can do ambush interviews?
Finally, isn’t it ironic to hear cops and badgelickers talking about other people being “intrusive”? These are the guys whose job it is to butt into everyone else’s business. They pull cars over in traffic and ask the driver for identification. They detain random people on the street and pat them down for weapons. It’s more-or-less what we pay them for, but I have no sympathy for their complaints when it’s their turn.