CA Senate wades into police videotaping controversy

Faced with mounting criticism over civil liberties abuses, lawmakers in Sacramento greenlit a so-called clarification of Californians’ right to videotape and photograph police officers on the job.

Senate Bill 411, introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, protects the practice so long as active bystanders are “not interfering with official duties,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

videotaping policeAccording to the bill’s language, “the fact that a person takes a photograph or makes an audio or video recording of an executive officer, while the officer is in a public place or the person taking the photograph or making the recording is in a place he or she has the right to be, is not, in and of itself, a violation[.]”

What’s more, Lara’s bill set out that photographing or videotaping police in that matter would not “constitute reasonable suspicion to detain the person or probable cause to arrest the person.”

Setting a trend

Passing 31-3 in the state Senate, SB411 headed to the Assembly, setting up California to become a possible trendsetter in the way citizen monitoring of police could be treated. Currently, no national consensus has formed around the issue, leaving legislative momentum up for grabs at the state level.

Although settled constitutional law has recognized both a right to videotape and a right to prevent interference with policing, widespread departures from that standard have prompted state lawmakers to intervene. In Colorado, for instance, a recent bill “proposed making it a crime for police to stop citizens from filming,” as the Daily Beast observed.

But, across the country, pieces of legislation have run into trouble regardless of which side of the debate they favor. In Connecticut, for instance, a bill permitting “lawsuits against police officers who interfere with those photographing or videotaping them during the performance of their duties was blocked Monday by Republicans in the judiciary committee,” according to the Hartford Courant.

In Texas, meanwhile, a police-friendly “cop-watcher” bill drew fire from legal observers, journalists, gun owners and others:

Dallas-area House representative Jason Villalba introduced HB 2918, which would make it a misdemeanor to photograph police within 25 feet — raising serious concerns that the bill, if passed, would violate the First Amendment and prevent individuals from holding police accountable. For Texans legally carrying a firearm, the buffer zone required would be 100 feet under Villalba’s proposal.

Halting progress

As previously reported, Sacramento has labored to keep up with changing technology, police tactics and public opinion. In January, several Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation around the use of on-cop bodycams. By videotaping situations police entered into, the logic ran, misconduct would decrease at the same time that police gained clear evidence of proper conduct that could help prevent lawsuits or help resolve them to the departments’ benefit.

police-body-cameraAttorney General Kamala Harris, for her part, has long considered police abuses to be an important part of her political and legal agenda — a stance that could gain prominence as her bid to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer draws more potent challengers.

Despite widespread support for bodycams among Democrats, along with many libertarians and some Republicans, the policy has attracted its share of problems. In Los Angeles, where Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti blazed a path toward standardizing the equipment, concern has persisted over the use of cloud storage, as Southern California Public Radio reported:

“Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will present this month his proposed city budget for the coming year. It’s expected to include money for body cameras for all Los Angeles Police Department officers. But some security analysts argue the LAPD’s plan to store body camera video in the cloud could make the images more vulnerable to attack than if the department placed them on its local servers.”

As yet, the question of cloud storage for recordings of police has not yet threatened to stall the progress of SB411  in Sacramento.


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  1. Donkey
    Donkey 15 April, 2015, 09:44

    Allowing citizens to observe and record our quiz-military police is a great step forward to introducing justice, truth, and freedom back into this nation.
    The Constitution is in conflict with the way the RAGWUS police operate, and in reality the idea of “policing” a free people is not even mentioned in our founding papers.
    When you lean back and observe what really takes place at your local police you find that it is all done behind closed doors. For what reason a free citizen would ask. Why are investigations done secretly? Why can’t information be released? Why are offending officers names always withheld when the citizens name is released whether guilty or innocent?
    There are thousands of things wrong with a government entity that can end you life over a tail light, a hose nozzle, a cigarette, or by a phone call for help. Sure putting more and more film of what the “serve and protect” monsters have really been doing to the public is changing their image, but will it change their behavior? No it wont! The behavior of the police will not change until they are under the same oppressive justice laws we live by, as administered by your humble costume clad, with a badge servant. 🙂

    Reply this comment
    • Bill Bradshaw
      Bill Bradshaw 15 April, 2015, 19:00

      Mr. Donkey’s comments were probably intended to be humorous — as they didn’t appear to be written with much serious thought. Of course there are problems with too many laws — and too many people who intentionally break the serious ones. “Oppressive justice”? Such silly drama.

      Reply this comment
      • Donkey
        Donkey 16 April, 2015, 08:23

        So Mr. Bradshaw, a nation with less that 5% of the worlds population has over 25% of the worlds prisoners, and you do not find that oppressive?
        Keep on living your fantasy boot licker! What I see everyday in this nation is citizens being jailed, harassed, and even sometimes murdered for non-violent acts when coming in contact with government costume wearing goons.
        Freedom requires a citizen to get a license to cut hair, a permit to sell lemonade, fees to have a party in a public park, but you hide behind that curtain of blue silence Bill. 🙂

        Reply this comment
  2. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 15 April, 2015, 14:51

    Currently, no national consensus has formed around the issue, leaving legislative momentum up for grabs at the state level.
    LOL….there is a constitutionally protected right to take pictures and video in PUBLIC places, and NO STATE can intrude upon that right. I laugh at these states that **TRY** to pass laws stating you cannot film cops in public places. They A:LL fail at the federal court level.

    Reply this comment

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