Taping Law Enforcement: Truth and Controversy

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Smart phones have become pretty ubiquitous over the last decade; in fact they’re quickly becoming a necessity. For the first time in history, the majority of Americans are carrying high quality recording equipment with them wherever they go and this has led to some interesting consequences.

Where would all the Youtube videos be if we weren’t all encouraged to be the director of our own mundane film? The ubiquity of technology and the distribution of built-in cameras have raised some important issues about the definition and the application of privacy. We’ll leave the issue of personal privacy off the table for the present, and focus on what’s been getting all the attention lately: recording law enforcement in public.

Now, there have already been a lot of opinions thrown around on this subject so we’ll avoid the temptation to editorialize and stick to the facts.

First it’s important to remember that cops are people too and they deserve a degree of privacy as they go about their jobs. How would you like it if someone stuck their camera into your workplace? In the Salt Lake and Utah valleys, we have some great police officers who are public servants as much as they are public protectors. At the same time, though, police officers are and should be held to a high level of public accountability. This is the same reason why officers wear uniforms, have badges, and go through extensive training, it’s essential to rule of law that the police are visible and accountable.

The biggest rule to keep in mind is that one should follow all police instructions and stay out of their way. The officers may not have the time or, according to the nature of the activity, the ability to explain exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it; something can look suspicious to the untrained observer and still be totally above board.

If you find yourself the unwitting bystander to a police operation, follow all instructions given—even if you suspect the police are up to something illegal or acting in violation of your first amendment rights; it is not the time to exchange interpretations of constitutional law. If you believe the police are acting in violation of yours or another’s rights, then take lots of mental notes, get in touch with other witnesses and then contact an attorney and/or your local chapter of the ACLU. It’s important to avoid complications with the police if you want any subsequent suits to go smoothly. So if you, or someone else in the Provo area, have had a run-in with law enforcement gone awry, don’t hesitate to contact our knowledgeable and compassionate attorneys.

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