I will be volunteering with the Ohio ACLU during the Republican convention that begins on the 18th, monitoring the media coverage though I have not yet been told exactly what I will be doing. At a meeting some months ago to prepare, concerns were raised that the police might try to stop the public from recording their actions using their mobile phones. These citizen produced videos have altered the dynamic in police-public relations in that in the past, the statements of the police as to what happened were largely taken at face value but now we often have video and audio of the events as they unfold, sometimes even livestreamed, and this has often exposed the use of extreme and unnecessary and even deadly force, especially targeting people of color.
Police have sometimes reacted to citizens recording them by confiscating cameras and destroying the data although courts have repeatedly ruled that the public has the right to record the actions of the police as long as they are not interfering with their actions. But police sometimes ignore the law or plead ignorance and confiscate and destroy cameras anyway.
At the ACLU meeting, it was decided to get an assurance from the police that they would not stop people from recording during the convention and it appears that those efforts have borne fruit because the Cleveland police department has sent an internal memo to all police officers about it.
Cleveland police sent a memo to its officers ahead of the Republican National Convention as a reminder that they are not allowed to order people to stop filming them in public places.
People have broad rights to film officers’ interactions with the public, and police can only tell them to stop if they keep officers from doing their jobs or are filming from a place they don’t have permission to be, according to an internal police memo from the department’s policy unit.
The memo, dated June 30, says officers cannot demand to know why a person is filming, ask who they are, detain them or tell them to leave, just because they are filming. Police are also barred from deleting a person’s photographs, videos or audio recordings.
“That material is considered evidence and the deletion or destruction of evidence is a crime,” the memo says.
The only time officers would be allowed to tell someone not to film them is if the person filming gets in their way, or does not have permission to be on the property from where they are filming, according to the memo.
The memo outlines that people who get in the way of officers and ignore commands to move could be arrested for obstruction of justice.
Further, if someone filming police impedes or threatens to impede an officer’s work, the officer must call for backup and wait for a supervisor to come to the scene and decide if the person filming should be arrested for obstructing official business.
These are sensible guidelines not just for the convention but in general and if followed, could go a long way in preventing a needless escalation of tensions between police and the public.
Of course the deadly attack in Dallas must already have caused security planners for the convention to meet and see if even more security is required.