Atlanta PD Will No Longer Harass Citizens Who Record Cops

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

More of this, please.

Faced with complaints from a citizen watchdog group, Atlanta police will stop interfering with people who videotape officers performing their duties in public, an agreement reached with the city Thursday says.

The settlement, which also calls for the city to pay $40,000 in damages, requires city council approval.

The agreement resolves a complaint filed by Marlon Kautz and Copwatch of East Atlanta, a group that films police activity with cell phones and hand-held cameras. The group has volunteers who go out on patrols and begin videotaping police activity when they come across it.

Last April, Kautz said, he pulled out his camera phone and began recording Atlanta police who were arresting a suspect in Little Five Points. Two officers approached him and said he had no right to be filming them, Kautz said. When Kautz refused to stop, one officer wrenched Kautz’s arm behind his backt and yanked the camera out of his hands, he said…

Kautz said that when he asked to get his phone back, another officer said he’d return it only after Kautz gave him the password to the phone so he could delete the footage. When Kautz refused, police confiscated the phone, he said. When police returned it, Kautzsaid, the video images had been deleted, altered or damaged.

As part of Thursday’s settlement, reached before a civil rights lawsuit was filed, the city will pay Kautz and Copwatch of East Atlanta $40,000 in damages. APD will also adopt an operating procedure that prohibits officers from interfering with citizens who are taping police activity, provided individuals recording the activity do not physically interfere with what the officers are doing. The policy is to be adopted within 30 days after the Atlanta city council approves the settlement, and training is to be carried out during police roll calls.

Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board, which was formed in the wake of the Kathryn Johnston raid, also recommended that the offending officer be suspended for four days without pay.

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42 Responses to “Atlanta PD Will No Longer Harass Citizens Who Record Cops”

  1. #1 |  Joe | 

    Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

  2. #2 |  Howlin' Hobbit | 

    wow!

    a little bit of hope. (with apologies to The Jarmels.)

  3. #3 |  OBTC | 

    This is no doubt, good news but I think the city council left the police with a giant loophole:

    “… provided individuals recording the activity do not physically interfere with what the officers are doing.”

    Wouldn’t this be subject to ‘interpretation’ and that bastion of all righteous logic – officer discretion?

  4. #4 |  Gordon | 

    A hopeful sign; we’ll see whether that message works its way down the ranks (cf NYPD).

    @OBTC – valid concern, though “physically interfere” will be somewhat harder to interpret away, I’d think.

    Might be a good strategy to have a second videographer discreetly shooting the first, as a backup.

  5. #5 |  Carl-Bear | 

    “Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board […] also recommended that the offending officer be suspended for four days without pay.”

    But naturally having him arrested, tried, convicted, and jailed for assault is out of the question. And why would we let a pesky thing like deprivation of rights under color of law (18 USC 242) bother us?

    “…provided individuals recording the activity do not physically interfere with what the officers are doing.”

    And there’s the free pass to keep doing it. Just call it “interfering with an officer” like we’ve seen plenty of times already.

  6. #6 |  perlhaqr | 

    Gordon: Might be a good strategy to have a second videographer discreetly shooting the first, as a backup.

    From 100 feet further away than the original videographer.

    —-

    I hope that CopWatch comes out with some behavioural suggestions (I hesitate to say “rules”) for people who want to do this. “Stay farther back than the farthest police car from the scene, and nowhere near it. Do not, under any circumstances, yell anything at the police.” etc.

  7. #7 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Atlanta’s Citizen Review Board, which was formed in the wake of the Kathryn Johnston raid, also recommended that the offending officer be suspended for four days without pay.

    How about getting crazy and charging him for the numerous crimes committed? I see, minimally, strong arm robbery, false arrest, assault and battery, and destruction of evidence – all with the “under color of law” aggravating circumstance. That would have an effect.

  8. #8 |  claude | 

    “Atlanta police will stop interfering with people who videotape officers performing their duties in public, an agreement reached with the city Thursday says.”

    Agreement? An agreement to allow you to do what you are constitutionally permitted to do? What was there to “agree” to?

  9. #9 |  Joe | 

    I want to see a case go to the Supreme Court and have them confirm a right that should be self evident.

    Of course, they could screw it up too.

  10. #10 |  Dave Krueger | 

    That’s a start. Now all they need to do is aggressively prosecute the officers involved for assault and violation of civil rights (you know, like they would have done if it had been an ordinary citizen instead of someone from ruling class).

  11. #11 |  EH | 

    claude:
    Agreement? An agreement to allow you to do what you are constitutionally permitted to do? What was there to “agree” to?

    Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, this is good news.

  12. #12 |  Highway | 

    The police are like huffy teenagers. “Well, fine! We’ll stop doing this illegal stuff, I guess….”

    It’s all of a piece with everyone on the state side. I’ve said before, the prosecutors act like they’re doing you a huge favor to not charge people who have been illegally arrested for doing things like videoing cops, or who get arrested in wrong-door raids.

    Now the cops are acting like they’re doing everyone a big favor by not illegally arresting folks in the first place. Aren’t they great guys?

    Chris Rock has a routine about the same kind of attitude, where folks of low moral character try to take credit for something they’re supposed to do in the first place. That’s exactly what we see here.

  13. #13 |  EH | 

    I would also like to see Kautz go after the officer’s immunity and sue him personally. This may or may not be a good opportunity to pierce the police veil, but there lies my intuition.

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  15. #15 |  J sub D | 

    Good news indeed. We can win this fight on both constitutional and PR grounds.

  16. #16 |  Marty | 

    I want to be optimistic, but I feel skeptical…

  17. #17 |  claude | 

    “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, this is good news.”

    Yeah it is, but i dont want to fall into the mentality being grateful government is allowing me to do things that they are supposed to be forbidden from trying to deny me in the first place.

    Im also having one of these kind of weekends:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eREiQhBDIk

  18. #18 |  Bob | 

    Radley, you should put a counter on the front page:

    “X days since APD has promised not to break the law harassing photographers.

    I give them 10 days, 30 tops.

  19. #19 |  EH | 

    Yeah it is, but i dont want to fall into the mentality being grateful government is allowing me to do things that they are supposed to be forbidden from trying to deny me in the first place.

    Looks like someone’s got a case of the “s’postas.” :)

  20. #20 |  Mattocracy | 

    As happy as I am with this, I really wish the cops were paying out $40,000 in damages…

  21. #21 |  Bergman | 

    @#19, EH:

    If the biggest, supposedly most inviolate, overrides-everything law in the nation says law enforcement and court officers cannot do something, ever; And they do it anyway, why should the average citizen have any respect for a less important lesser law, or those who enforce them?

  22. #22 |  Not Sure | 

    “As part of Thursday’s settlement, reached before a civil rights lawsuit was filed, the city will pay Kautz and Copwatch of East Atlanta $40,000 in damages.”

    Translated into english: “As part of Thursday’s settlement, reached before a civil rights lawsuit was filed, Atlanta taxpayers will pay Kautz and Copwatch of East Atlanta $40,000 in damages.

  23. #23 |  BamBam | 

    How can you adopt a policy for an act that was legal to begin with? That implies that the act was illegal without the policy.

  24. #24 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    I’ll believe it when I don’t see it.

  25. #25 |  zendingo | 

    Looks like someone’s got a case of the “s’postas.” :)

    yea the cops…

  26. #26 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #23:

    Such policies are commonplace in law enforcement agencies. The classic example is the Miranda warning. It was never lawful for the police to force suspects to incriminate themselves, but they often did so anyway. The Miranda warning is a standardized procedure to inform suspects of their constitutional rights that was implemented precisely in order to compel police officers to abide by the Fifth Amendment.

    The new Atlanta PD policy has an identical purpose, although the most relevant Amendments in its case are the First and the Fourth. It will also serve to explicitly prohibit officers from committing a number of felonies and serious misdemeanors under color of authority. Of course, it is disturbing that there are officers who need to be explicitly instructed by their commanders not to commit armed robbery for purposes of destroying evidence, but this policy is important because it officially declares that such activities under color of authority will not be tolerated.

  27. #27 |  croaker | 

    @20 I wish the cops were bent over a prison bunk getting an HIV injection while their homes were sold out from under their families.

    This won’t end until citizens adopt a “bad cops don’t go home safe” policy.

  28. #28 |  nospam | 

    “…provided individuals recording the activity do not physically interfere with what the officers are doing.”

    How long until the some judge uses the quantum mechanics excuse? You know, merely observing an event alters it’s outcome and is therefor interfering. You know one of the guys in a long black dress will do it.

  29. #29 |  croaker | 

    @26 Also, the next time an Atlanta PD officer pulls this crap, the department can say “these actions were outside of policy” and hang him out to dry on the federal lawsuit. No qualified immunity, and no indemnity.

  30. #30 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #7:

    The suspension recommendation is a good start. As a matter of police discipline and equity before the law, however, termination and prosecution are entirely warranted. Basic professional standards dictate that applicants not be hired if they have an apparent tendency as civilians to behave as these officers behaved under color of authority. Most agencies at least pay lip service to such standards in their recruiting materials.

    In general, the problems start in earnest after recruitment, when the blue wall of silence goes into effect. At that point, behavior that in prior civilian life would have resulted in automatic disqualification for sworn employment is ignored or actively covered up.

    One caveat on the Citizen Review Board’s leniency: with luck, the suspension will be effective in reforming the offending officer. Suspensions can be effective in deterring future misconduct; Norm Stamper offered some good examples in “Breaking Rank.” That said, the effectiveness will depend on whether the officer in question is humble and decent enough to learn from his mistakes or an arrogant, out-of-control thug.

  31. #31 |  Andrew Roth | 

    Re: #28:

    I like the idea of blaming quantum mechanics for the stupid theatrics that officers put on for filming crews from “Cops.” Some of them are obviously putting on a show for the folks back home. The theatrical dynamics are of the same sort that some courts use as grounds to bar the videotaping of trials. The judges in these cases are not interested in limiting the court record–they retain court reporters–but they are afraid of inflammatory, emotionally driven fiascos in the mold of the OJ Simpson murder trial.

    In the case of “Cops,” sometimes it’s a damning show. In one episode shot in Pomona, CA, an officer bragged about the Pomona PD being a haven for “officers who believe in commonsense policing” or something of the sort. If I remember correctly, it didn’t take him more than two minutes to initiate a dubious Terry stop on a bicyclist.

    Translation of “commonsense policing:” “Fuck that Constitutional bullshit.”

    Internal affairs units should be scouring “Cops” footage for misconduct. As far as I know, they are not.

  32. #32 |  rapscallion | 

    Andrew Roth,
    It’s amazing how much crap I’ve seen on “Cops” since I started rewatching old episodes with an eye for constitutional violations. I’ve seen at least two episodes with damn near the same mistake that got Erik Scott killed (i.e. contradictory orders when the suspect has a gun on him or nearby). Officers also often handcuff people for nothing but insulting them and/or being emotional. After they’re cuffed, the officers will talk to them for a long time to figure out what to charge them with, and you want to scream at them to just shut up.

  33. #33 |  Pinandpuller | 

    I seem to remember an old show where one cop yells, “Hold it!” and the other one yells,”Drop it!”.

  34. #34 |  infopractical | 

    Two comments:

    1. This is great news and provides us all with a model as to how to proceed with rejecting further movement toward a police state.

    2. Radley Balko, your blog is one of my favorite places on the web. Keep doing what you do.

  35. #35 |  BamBam | 

    @26, all of that is meaningless because it doesn’t negate the logic of my statement, nor does it guarantee anything. Having it “in writing” doesn’t stop anything, nor is it a “step in the right direction” because these “actions” and “policy changes” have been done over and over and nothing changes. The problem is the existence of the system itself.

  36. #36 |  BamBam | 

    @34, sorry to inform you but the police state has existed for many decades and is only clamping the boot on your throat even harder. The problem is the existence of the system itself.

  37. #37 |  BamBam | 

    @29, all of that could have been achieved without a policy stating an already legal action to be legal. Nothing changes with creating a policy that “puts cops on notice” that said action “is legal”. It’s all “ink on paper” which doesn’t change anything. What WILL change things is for people to stop being apathetic and do something about being scared of cops. The ideal action is to work for wiping the system from existence.

    It’s as if people think “new policies” have have made a difference in the past, so hey let’s keep writing more things on paper and crossing our fingers that thugs will behave — when there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

  38. #38 |  EH | 

    BamBam: Of course you’re right that words or policies don’t stop the police from doing anything, and in fact they don’t stop anybody from doing anything. At the end of the day you have people doing what they want to do when they want to do it, which is why I think officer immunity is the weakest brick in the Blue Wall of Silence. When officers act with impunity, immunity is their shield.

  39. #39 |  Duncan20903 | 

    Can’t these images be uploaded to the Internet in real time? My home security system does. I can watch people breaking into my home and ransacking it from the other coast.

  40. #40 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Lemme guess…they’ll stop arresting people who videotape them and instead arrest people for obstruction, resisting, ignoring an officer’s order, and a couple dozen other bullshit raps.

  41. #41 |  supercat | 

    Absent a written policy that police have no authority to harass people for legally recording them, police can commit such harassment and then claim they thought they had such authority to do so. Putting the policy in writing undermines such claims.

    As for the “physically interferes” loophole, I don’t think it’s overly large. Basically, it says the right of someone to record the action from a place they have a right to be does not imply a blanket right to go to the best place to record the action. While there may be some room for judgment as to what exactly constitutes “physical interference”, it’s pretty clear that it requires something more that absorbing photons and electronically transcribing the pattern thereof.

  42. #42 |  Sunshine Is The Best Disinfectant – Rochester Edition | The Pretense of Knowledge | 

    […] – 13WHAM.com Rochester woman arrested while videotaping police officers during traffic stop Atlanta PD Will No Longer Harass Citizens Who Record Cops Share this:ShareEmailPrintFacebookTags: Liberty, Rochester /* */ /* */ /* */ […]

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