Caught on Film: Filming Police Activity

In the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri case, as well as other high profile cases in which police appear to be using excessive force on citizens, a new Illinois bill may seem a bit odd. This bill would make it a felony—with steep punishments—to surreptitiously record the police. The bill was passed by both House and Senate, then sent to Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on December 4th. Critics of the proposed law claim it will prevent citizens from recording their interactions with law enforcement.

Overall, the bill seeks to criminalize “secret” recordings of private conversations between two people, when at least one of those people had an expectation of privacy. The proposed law would likely still allow citizens to openly filming police activity, but not to attempt to hide the fact they were filming. The Illinois law would make unlawfully recording a conversation with a police officer a class 3 felony, carrying a sentence of two to four years in prison.

Law enforcement has been recording their interactions with the public for over three decades, via in-car cameras. Most agencies have less practical experience with body cameras. British police were one of the earliest pioneers of body cameras, and have over a decade of experience with the technology.  British prosecutors claim an increase in convictions, an increase in confessions (once the suspect sees the video) and a decrease in the expenses related to criminal investigations.

One of the first test sites for body cameras is the Rialto Police Department in California. After using the cameras for a full year, the results were astonishing:

  • Use of force was 250 percent higher before the department started using body cameras than during the trial period when all police personnel wore the body cameras;
  • The number of complaints prior to the use of the body cameras was 900 percent higher than during the trial period;
  • Physical contact which was initiated by law enforcement dropped from 23.5 percent to 0 percent, and
  • There was a sharp decrease in firearm use with an increase in the use of Tasers.

Malfunctioning Body Cameras

Unfortunately, one of the major concerns with body-worn cameras is that they seem to be able to be switched off at crucial moments. A former Albuquerque, NM police officer, Jeremy Dear, suffered from a long history of his “malfunctioning” camera failing to record events in the most crucial cases. One of those cases was a fatal shooting of a young woman. Dear insisted the design of the body camera was flawed, however the police department investigation concluded the design was “advantageously used by officers not wanting their actions recorded.”  In theory, the primary difference between body cameras worn by police and civilian recordings, is that the police recording should record the incident from start to finish.

The Newest High-Tech Body Cameras

A civilian recording, on the other hand, is much more likely to have bits and pieces—or the last few critical seconds—of the altercation. High-tech, second-generation recording devices now have recording in high definition which is triggered automatically. These video recordings can stream live to supervisors and dispatchers, cannot be turned off during an accident, contains integrated GPS, and automatically uploads the video to cloud storage. Finally, the newest devices record in a format, which cannot be uploaded to social media and are enclosed in an almost indestructible black box.

Contact Our Colorado Criminal Defense Lawyers

Filming police activity reduces abuse | Defense Attorney Steven LouthIf you or someone you love has been arrested and charged with a crime, it is important to speak to an experienced Boulder criminal defense lawyer immediately. If your arrest and interaction with the police was caught on film, this could be advantageous to your attorney and to having the charges against you dismissed or reduced. Time is of the essence, however, and valuable footage can be lost or destroyed if you do not act quickly. Contact the Boulder criminal defense lawyers at Steven Louth Law Offices today for a free consultation and review of your case. Call us at (303) 422-2297 to start building a solid defense against these serious criminal charges.



Posted in Blog, Boulder, Criminal Defense

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