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Jul 03 2012

NYPD Targets ‘Agitators’

Carlos Miller reports that the NYPD is warning its officers of two “professional agitators” who record the police making arrests, which is perfectly legal, by putting up mugshot posters of them in their local precinct. The two “agitators” saw the poster while attending a community board meeting at the department. Here’s what the “agitators” say about it:

Walked into the monthly 30th Precinct community board meeting to discover our own faces hanging on the podium. It reads

Be aware that the subjects are known professional agitators that live at [our address posted on poster]. Above subjects mo is that they video tape officers performing routine stops and post on youtube. Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too deter officers from conducting there responsibilities. Above subjects also deter officers from being safe and tactical by causing unnecessary distractions. Do not feed into subjects propaganda.

And yes, all those misspellings are on the poster. This is similar to what the Miami PD did to Miller himself, sending out an email warning officers to be on the lookout for him at an Occupy protest; he was later arrested at that protest for doing nothing more than videotaping what the police were doing (along with many other journalists, none of whom were arrested).

And I love the spin. Their purpose is to “portray officers in a negative way.” No, their purpose is to document what the officers are doing. In NYC, with its incredible history of police brutality and misconduct, that’s a very good thing. The only ones who can turn that into a negative are the officers themselves. If they do their job without abusing their authority or abusing the people under their protection, they’ll come out of it looking just fine. Instead of teaching officers to fear those who document their behavior, in full compliance with the law, they should be teaching officers to not break the law and violate anyone’s rights.

37 comments

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  1. 1
    beezlebubby

    I know this isn’t Pharyngula, but whoever authored that poster is a fucking idiot. Get a brain, “moran”.

  2. 2
    busterggi

    Police like the idea of a police state.

  3. 3
    gshelley

    Do not feed into subjects propaganda.

    Surely, the way to “feed into the propoganda” would be by performing illegal searches or intimidating the “agitators”.

  4. 4
    scienceavenger

    agitators – those who do not genuflect before the badge.

  5. 5
    hoku

    I actually read this as a backwards way of achieving good thing. My reading of the last line about “feed[ing] into… propaganda” is that it basically just says, “be good and professional in doing your duty, so they can’t make you look bad.” Its focusing on the wrong thing (perception), but the goal seems to be to make them act more reasonably.

  6. 6
    Area Man

    Am I the only one who first read this as “Alligators?

  7. 7
    Reginald Selkirk

    Police like the idea of a police state.

    Only if they get to be the police. If someone else got to be the police, they wouldn’t like it one bit.

  8. 8
    Christoph Burschka

    Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way

    The poster is doing a much better job on that.

  9. 9
    Stacy

    I actually read this as a backwards way of achieving good thing. My reading of the last line about “feed[ing] into… propaganda” is that it basically just says, “be good and professional in doing your duty, so they can’t make you look bad.” Its focusing on the wrong thing (perception), but the goal seems to be to make them act more reasonably

    But that message is accompanied by a picture of the video-takers. So the message is, at best, “Behave yourselves–around THESE people.”

  10. 10
    chriswalker

    On the one hand, I don’t like the idea of the police warning their officers to be on alert about citizens who are abiding by the law. On the other hand, pictures and video do not usually show the world as it is but instead as the person who took them wants you to see it, so I am leery of people who make it a point to follow another person around and tape them. I’ve met or encountered one too many “Fuck all those subhuman pigs, they’re the enemy!” types to trust that every citizen taping the police has honest intentions.

  11. 11
    d cwilson

    And just in case any of you feel like stopping by their homes, during your off-duty time of course, and intimidate these agitators, we’ve conveniently posted their home addresses here.

  12. 12
    Bronze Dog

    Creative editing of footage of police officers to make them look bad is a legitimate concern if you just look at one thing by itself. The problem I have is that this fits into the pattern of police officers not wanting to be recorded because damning, unedited footage captured by well-meaning civilians interferes with their ability to effectively lie on reports and in court.

    Of course, a proper response to genuine agitators is to give all police officers their own lapel cameras and encourage them to record everything so that honest cops can have their own unedited footage to compare to dishonestly edited footage.

  13. 13
    Jordan Genso

    Subjects purpose is to portray officers in a negative way and too deter officers from conducting there responsibilities.

    The question I have for the department that made the poster is this:

    If someone wanted to videotape the police in action, with the purpose of portraying them in neither a positive nor negative way, but an objective way, how could one go about doing so without the department feeling that the purpose was negative?

    In other words, is there any possible way for the two individuals to demonstrate that the quoted sentence is incorrect?

  14. 14
    chriswalker

    I agree that there has been a definite problem with police officers not wanting to be recorded for the wrong reasons. I still understand why even honest officers (there are over nine hundred thousand police officers in the USA, if I recall correctly, and I have to assume that the vast majority are trying to do their job honestly and to the best of their ability) don’t want to be recorded in the age of ACORN and Shirley Sherrod.

    Of course, a proper response to genuine agitators is to give all police officers their own lapel cameras and encourage them to record everything so that honest cops can have their own unedited footage to compare to dishonestly edited footage.

    An excellent idea. Now find a lapel mounted camera (with microphone) that is affordable enough to be implemented widely, effective for police work (won’t fall off in foot chases, won’t get easily broken or otherwise disabled during physical altercations, won’t pose a threat to the officer’s safety – they wear clip-on ties for reason, and captures high enough quality video and audio to document conflicts where the suspect is ten feet away), and find a way, in the current economic climate, to fund it in every police department from New York City to Bixby, Texas.

    Not saying that it isn’t a good idea (it is), or that it wouldn’t solve a lot of problems (it would). I’m saying it is nowhere as simple as “they just need to this simple thing”.

  15. 15
    Bronze Dog

    Now find a lapel mounted camera (with microphone) that is affordable enough to be implemented widely…

    One reason why I chose to write ‘a proper response’ instead of ‘the proper response.’ I’m not knowledgeable about camera options and relative costs, but more cameras in general would be good if the department can afford them.

    Of course, given the militarization trend, I suspect a lot of departments would rather buy a used APC than than cameras.

  16. 16
    Worldtraveller

    Yeah, given the amount of money police spend on things like tanks and heavy weapons, I think lapel cameras (with proper civilian oversight) would be a relatively minor expense.

    You don’t need one for every cop, just one for every on duty cop (and a certain percentage extra to account for repairs and similar contingencies).

  17. 17
    Homo Straminus

    chriswalker—I think it is that simple. If we assume as true that “the vast majority are trying to do their job honestly,” then the obvious thing to do is appeal to police unions. If they can be convinced that on-person, unadulterated (i.e., automatically uploaded to a secure location like some consumer apps) audio and video evidence could be available to every officer, they should leap at the chance to force legislation on the issue.

    Moreover, a rallying cry of, “This will protect our officers and demonstrate their unfailing integrity!” would overwhelm any budgetary roadblocks. And I do think finding a reliable device wouldn’t be too great a challenge. Cops already carry a lot of gear; I would think a small, rugged shoulder-attached camera (much like their shoulder-mounted mikes) isn’t too hard to engineer.

    As for coast-to-coast implementation: as far as I’m aware, not every law enforcement vehicle is equipped with a dashcam, so it’s hard for me to see why every LEO would immediately need to be equipped with a camera. I would hope the adoption of cameras would be adopted on a department-voluntary basis. The egregious example that’s the subject of this blog post is a wonderful example of why: instead of resorting to warnings about these people (nevermind the obvious thuggery of posting their home address), the poster could simply read, “Some people in our community are engaging in dishonestly editing and distorting police encounters. Go to [website] to see a comparison of their postings with our officers’ unedited video footage and judge for yourself if they are acting in good faith.”

    Of course, none of this will happen. Police unions will never willingly give the appearance of crossing the thin blue line by offering the public or independent oversight bodies more incontrovertible evidence of police misconduct, whatever benefits such evidence could provide to honest police officers. Exactly how many dashcam videos are routinely “lost”? How many instances do we see of “but for [citizen] video” police misconduct? To my knowledge, no union has ever offered a statement on such behavior. Unions are far more concerned with protecting the image of their officers as righteous infallible defenders of our citizenry than they are of protecting those citizens from the officers themselves.

  18. 18
    AsqJames

    Above subjects also deter officers from being safe and tactical by causing unnecessary distractions.

    Of course if all they’re doing is standing a reasonable distance away with a camera, the only “unnecessary distraction” would be if the officer decided to go over and hassle them for no good reason.

  19. 19
    steve oberski

    @chriswalker

    I’ve met or encountered one too many “Fuck all those subhuman pigs, they’re the enemy!” types to trust that every citizen taping the police has honest intentions.

    Why do their intentions matter ? It is their right to record the actions of on duty police officers.

    In fact I would go further and say that it is a duty of citizens to ensure that the powers that they have delegated to public officials be used in a legal manner and based on the reaction of police forces around the world to video taping, this is a very effective means of enforcing this.

    My advice to police officers would be, assume that every action you make while on duty is being recorded and act accordingly.

    I agree that there has been a definite problem with police officers not wanting to be recorded for the wrong reasons. I still understand why even honest officers (there are over nine hundred thousand police officers in the USA, if I recall correctly, and I have to assume that the vast majority are trying to do their job honestly and to the best of their ability) don’t want to be recorded …

    There is no wrong reason.

    This is analogous to free speech, just as it’s the speech that I find most offensive that needs protecting it’s those reasons for recording on duty police that I find most questionable and suspect that should be allowed. As soon as you can deem one reason as not allowable then no reason is allowable.

    While there are most likely honest police officers, they are the ones that do not make themselves complicit in the illegal actions committed by many of their co-officers by turning a blind eye, refusing to report illegal actions and refusing to arrest police officers committing illegal actions.

  20. 20
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    If they do their job without abusing their authority or abusing the people under their protection, they’ll come out of it looking just fine.

    Oh, no. I’ve seen plenty of episodes of NYPD Blue. I know that sometimes you just need to smack the perp around a bit to get the job done!

    (/sarcasm)

  21. 21
    Setár, Elvenkitty

    I’m just going to second the notion that I don’t understand why honest officers don’t mind having their actions in the line of duty recorded. It provides concrete evidence, protecting against false claims on both sides. It’s a win-win.

    History has proven that we can’t trust our own simian brains with power, why haven’t we realised that yet? =/

  22. 22
    michellekothe

    Here in Australia there have been news reports about officers buying their own cameras to wear so they can record interactions with the public for their own protection.

    This suggests that individual police might be very keen on the idea?

    My only concern with personally owned cameras is that there is no monitoring of when they were off or on, thereby allowing an officer to turn the camera off when they don’t want to be recorded.

    A good policy with cameras supplied by the police forces would monitor the recording times for the camera, monitor for faults regularly etc. This protects both the public (from “malfunctions”) and the officer (from accusations of manufacturing “malfunctions”).

    And it seems a sensible way of addressing the ever old question of who guards the guards themselves.

  23. 23
    kenreilly

    Haven’t any of you seen the helmet cams used be snowboards, skateboards and others. they are plenty small rugged and reasonably priced

  24. 24
    Usernames are smart

    I personally have been harassed by officers for taking pictures—more than on one occasion.

    The last time, I came across the aftermath of a light rail accident. After taking a few shots without incident, I saw the pickup truck that lost the encounter and walked over to take some pictures of the mess. Even though I was standing on the sidewalk, a cop decided that taking pictures of that truck was not allowed.

    Fortunately things turned out okay, but he could’ve just as easily run me into the station for a nice long chat.

  25. 25
    noneedforaname

    I kind of fail to see the problem. The whole purpose of what these guys do is to let the police know they’re being watched, and that they’ll be held accountable for their actions. They’ve been successful, and the police have taken notice in seemingly a big way. Isn’t that EXACTLY what they wanted?

    I would see this as a good thing. It’s the NYPD telling officers to keep their shit in line. How is that bad?

  26. 26
    tfkreference

    Can someone still following this thread post the name of the app that immediately uploads video from a smartphone to a server (ACLU’s, perhaps?). I think it was mentioned here a while back, but all the keywords I can think of right now return zillions of hits.

  27. 27
    noneedforaname

    On a side note about “Why do police have a problem with being filmed”. I have some family in law enforcement, a couple of whom work in pretty sensitive fields. It’s kind of a thin line for them knowing that legally there’s nothing wrong with being filmed, and at the same time protecting themselves. Even doing nothing wrong, being filmed puts their identities out there for the world, and potentially shows people how they do their jobs and what they do. That can be a huge security risk for some people, and even low-level police officers can get a little bristly about it. Not everybody out there likes police, and all it takes is one person with bad intentions to zone in on somebody and it can cause major problems for them.
    It is kind of a fine line – and I can definitely see both sides of the argument.

  28. 28
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    @tfkreference #26
    It’s the NYCLU, not the national outfit.

  29. 29
    valhar2000

    Maybe the honest cops who are concerned that they may be filmed during dangerous situations that put them and their jobs at risk should actually do something about their dirty co-workers. Something other than maintaining the think blue wall of silence and looking the other way. Until and unless they do that, they’ll get no sympathy from me.

  30. 30
    valhar2000

    It’s the NYPD telling officers to keep their shit in line. How is that bad?

    Wow! I remember when I was that naive… it was a simpler, happier time.

    What the NYPD has done is to single out those two “agitators” for special concentrated police harassment, and, possibly, “disappearance”. And yes, those are scare-quotes, and scary as I can make them, if that means to you.

  31. 31
    eidolon

    O.K. – let’s see. If a bystander takes photographs/video of the police in action and in no way interacts with them, how is that being an agitator?

    Since the police are literally given the power to kill, perhaps it is appropriate that they bear a bit more scrutiny. Even if it makes them “bristly”. The abuse of power by police has become much more apparent with the advent of readily available cameras in the form of phones. This means that it no longer comes down to just conflicting statements about what happened.

    What the NYPD here did was to single out two individuals for special treatment/attention. Why else include addresses? Why refer to what they do as their m.o.? They just lumped them in with all the ‘other’ criminals. We are not ‘citizens’ in the eyes of the police, we are ‘civilians’ and they are apart from and above us.

  32. 32
    noneedforaname

    Again – I can see both sides of the argument.
    If we’re being truly honest – I think we can also agree that these guys are looking to catch police in the act of doing something wrong. That’s fine – but let’s drop the act of total innocence on their part. They are being antagonistic to a degree.

    As far as NYPD making somebody disappear – you’re kidding me, right? Really guys? I’m as skeptical of authority as anyone – but I also live here, and find that INCREDIBLY difficult to believe.

    As far as scrutiny goes – there is a LOT of scrutiny. Pretty much every single thing police do is documented these days. It’s not a question of scrutiny – but more whether real accountability takes place as a result. In the past – that hasn’t really happened. Nowdays police action is regularly subjected to community board review (as is virtually everything) to provide that accountability, and it’s worked. Police response has been far more professional in the last bunch of years than it was in years/decades past.

    But personally I think all of this is irrelevant. My original point still stands that they wanted to get the department’s attention, and show them that their actions will be put on display for the whole world to see. They succeeded. What is the big problem exactly?

  33. 33
    noneedforaname

    Also just a point of contention here. If these guys have ever been arrested, their information is readily available to the police, and in some cases the public at large. NYPD isn’t doing anything illegal or even really any different than what these guys are doing with them. If it’s good enough for one, it’s good enough for the other.

    Sorry, just can’t get worked up about this.

  34. 34
    eidolon

    noneed…

    Where to begin here …perhaps your post script of the availability of the information about the two individuals in question. Being available is a bit different that putting it on a poster for all to be made more aware of. Then there is the ‘tit for tat’ aspect. You do understand that the vast differential in power makes this uneven at the very least? I am also unaware of any officer’s information such as his address being made public. To what end were the addresses publicized – perhaps it was to allow the police to give them a bit more special attention.

    It is your contention that police response is far more professional than in the past. The first thing that seems amiss is that we really have no idea about police actions in the past since there was virtually no record of what went on. Further, not every single thing the police do is documented except when someone videos it to provide the documentation. Cities have been paying out millions of dollars annually to settle excessive force cases.

    “The average amount paid per officer to settle cases in Denver per-year — $697 — is far lower than that spent by some other cities, Friednash said. He cited Associated Press data that found Chicago averaged $2,930, New York $2,700, Los Angeles, $2,200, and Philadelphia, $1,360.”

    Finally – as for being antagonistic to the police, I would say you are right. That is, if looking for examples of the police overstepping the boundaries is antagonistic. But then, if the police are behaving properly, no problem right?

  35. 35
    Jafafa Hots

    It’s not a fine line. It’s not even a line at all.
    It’s a barricade specifically put there to protect rights.

    You have the right to photograph or film (video record) in a place where there is no expectation of privacy – for example a street, etc.

    A few backwards states have used their wiretapping laws to assert that videotaping is illegal on the basis of the audio – this is slowly being corrected, but until then, just cover the mic.

    If cops are made nervous by citizens using exercising their civil rights, if cops feel people behaving lawfully is too much of a risk, if cops are worried about the people who allow them to carry guns and other powers checking up on them, then they should not be cops.

    If there are two sides to this issue then they are the one that respects the law and civil rights, and the one that doesn’t.

    (and please no “but it can interfere with” etc… replies. Interfering with cops is already well covered under the law. It doesn’t count in this particular argument.)

  36. 36
    noneedforaname

    Re: professionalism compared to the past.

    Seeing as there hasn’t been any anal raping with plungers, 41 shots into an unarmed man, or such other absolutely horrible acts in quite some time – I’d say it’s a pretty marked improvement. Not perfect, not without room for improvement – but clearly quite a bit better than a decade ago.

    As far as antagonizing – on one hand i agree. Police should be held accountable. When they slip up, their actions should be documented. However following cops around with a camera just waiting for them to make a mistake so you can have an “ahhaaaa – see they’re all corrupt!” moment, while is your right – creates a rather hostile relationship that is counter intuitive. One would think that there’s got to be a better way to handle things. One that creates a less hostile environment for both, and fosters a bit more willingness to be open.

    Just as if your boss stood over your shoulder and followed you around all day at work. Only to jump all over you every time you screwed up. Sure, he’s the boss, it’s his right. Sure you should be doing your job up to the standards he sets. However it creates a pretty freakin hostile work environment, and you’re gonna start getting pretty pissed pretty quick.

    The bottom line is – it’s not just a matter of “it’s my right!” It’s also a question of, what’s going to help promote openness? What’s going to help promote cooperation and trust between the police and the public? Those are the goals right? Just because you *can* do something one way, doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. That’s the point.

  37. 37
    Michael Heath

    noneedforaname writes:

    If we’re being truly honest – I think we can also agree that these guys are looking to catch police in the act of doing something wrong. That’s fine – but let’s drop the act of total innocence on their part. They are being antagonistic to a degree.

    You don’t need to ask people to be honest in this venue; they tend to get ripped if they aren’t.

    The videographers are totally innocent both as a matter of law and especially ethically. In fact they’re serving a great public service by recording law enforcement as they interact with others. Their service ripples beyond their individual actions since it alerts law enforcement beyond those recorded that the public is now more attentive to their adhering to the standards we’ve obligated them to meet in carrying out their duties.

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