Tag Archives: filming police

Police Officers Fear ‘YouTube Effect’ Impacting Job Performance

As police officers across the country are expressing concern over a “YouTube effect” resulting from the public’s ability to document and publish police activity with smartphones, the director of the FBI suggested this effect may be contributing to a recent rise in violent crime.

The Washington Times reported that officers from over 30 agencies gathered in San Antonio for an annual National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO) convention last week, where one of the main topics highlighted how to deal with “hostile media” with examples including officer-involved fatal shootings.

Lt. Gary Vickers of the Newark, New Jersey Police Department, indicated that he fears “death by media” if a video of his performance on the job were to go viral.

“Am I going to be the next one who is put on display for doing an honest job?” Vickers said. “It really dictates how a police officer reacts today.” 

FBI Director James Comey told the Chicago Sun-Times that he believes the rise in violent crime is due to the fact that “something in policing has changed” and many officers now  “feel under siege.”

“In today’s YouTube world, there are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime,” Comey said. “Our officers are answering 911 calls, but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns.”

Comey also said when it comes to sentencing reform and lowering mass incarceration rates, he thinks Americans should debate the issue with “a fair understanding of history.” He used an example of Richmond, Virginia in the 1990s when he said that after dozens of men were incarcerated for trafficking narcotics, violence dropped in the area and citizens felt safer.

The “Youtube effect” was discussed by top law enforcement at a private meeting earlier this month. The Washington Post reported that a “unifying- and controversial- theory” was reached at this meeting, suggesting that officers have been dialing down on aggressive policing over fear of appearing on “a career-ending viral video.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch at the meeting that “we have allowed our police department to get fetal and it is having a direct consequence.”

“They have pulled back from the ability to interdict … they don’t want to be a news story themselves, they don’t want their career ended early, and it’s having an impact.”

RT noted that while “homicides in 35 big U.S. cities are up 19 percent on average this year, and non-fatal shootings are up 62 percent, according to a police association survey,” there is also a rise in police killings.

According to a list from The Guardian, 931 people have been killed by police in the United States in 2015 thus far, with “black Americans killed by police twice as likely to be unarmed as white people.”

Cell phone footage has challenged some narratives of police officers in the cases of fatal shootings involving victims including Walter Scott, who was shot and killed while running away from an officer after a traffic stop in April, and Jeremy McDole, who was shot and killed while sitting in his wheelchair on the street in September.

In both cases, the officers’ official story of the suspect being armed was challenged by a bystander’s video that was released online.

TX Rep. Jason Villalba Scraps Bill That Would Limit Filming Of Police

Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) confirmed last Friday that he is no longer seeking a public hearing for House Bill 2918, a measure that would have made it illegal for citizens and independent media to record police activity within 25 feet.

HB 2918 proposed a 25-foot “buffer zone” between citizen recording and police activity or, as Villalba described it, a “halo.” For a citizen recording while also carrying a handgun, the “halo” would be expanded to 100 feet. An individual filming inside the 25-foot area could face up to 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine, while a person filming while carrying a handgun inside the expanded 100-foot zone could face up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

One notable provision of the bill would have exempted one group from Villalba’s proposed “halo”: traditional news media. HB 2918 would have allowed FCC-licensed radio and TV stations and qualified magazines and newspapers to film police activity as closely as necessary, allowing them exclusive access to incidents that would not be granted to independent media.

In March, the Dallas Morning News had reported that Villalba “conceded the value of well-meant citizens with cameras and bloggers in pajamas, those people who school themselves on issues and bring things to light over social media.”

“He said he doesn’t want to put the screws to them. What his bill IS aimed at, Villalba said, are cop-watch groups that consist of ‘agitators posing as journalists in order to interfere’ with officers doing their job.”

Villalba later came under fire for telling his staff to block HB 2918’s skeptics and critics from his Twitter account after he had received an influx of questions and criticisms. Villalba admitted that “my instruction to staff was, ‘If you get something at all that looks like a troll, delete it.’ That’s why folks who might otherwise be legitimate news sources might have been blocked.” To handle the outpouring of criticism, he also reportedly told his staff to “delete all voice mails without listening to them. Do not answer the phones today. Leave the office and work from home if you like.”

Despite the negative responses from citizens and civil liberty groups, Villalba remained steadfast in his belief that HB 2918 would protect police. “We thought when we wrote our bill that we were making it safe not only for the police officers by that [25-foot] buffer zone, but also for those individuals that are seeking to keep law enforcement accountable to give them a safe zone to film,” Villalba said.

According to the Dallas Morning News, Villalba said that the Dallas Police Association and the Texas Municipal Police Association had originally proposed the idea of a protected area for police officers. However, Villalba did say that legislation is not likely to be successful, acknowledging that “I think the public has spoken very loudly.”

Colorado Bill Would Impose Penalty On Police Interfering With Citizen Recording

In contrast to Texas legislation introduced by state representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) that would penalize a citizen for filming police activity within a proposed 15-foot area, lawmakers in Colorado have introduced a bill that would penalize police officers for obstructing, seizing or destroying citizen recording.

House Bill 15-1290 is one of several measures that have been introduced this month in Colorado in an effort to increase police oversight. HB 15-1290 “creates a private right of action against a peace officer’s employing law enforcement agency if a person records an incident involving a peace officer and a peace officer destroys the recording or seizes the recording without receiving consent or obtaining a warrant or if the peace officer intentionally interferes with the recording or retaliates against the person making the recording. The person who recorded the peace officer incident is entitled to actual damages, a civil penalty of $15,000, and attorney fees and costs.”

Colorado state representative and HB 15-1290 co-sponsor Joe Salazar (D-Thornton) said that “Primarily, it came up as a result of the number of news reports we’ve been seeing about police officers telling people, ‘Give me your camera,’ or taking the data away, and that is unacceptable conduct.”

Last November, man named Levi Frasier witnessed and filmed an altercation between Denver police and a drug suspect. Video captured by Frasier showed an officer delivering multiple punches to the suspect and tripping the suspect’s pregnant girlfriend. Frasier told Fox31 Denver that police seized the tablet Frasier was using to record the incident, and when the tablet was returned the video was missing. Frasier was able to retrieve the video because it had been also stored on a cloud.

In January, a woman named Bobbie Ann Diaz accused Denver police of prohibiting her daughter Brianna from filming at the scene of the death of Jessica Hernandez, a 17-year-old accused of driving a stolen car who was fatally shot by police while she was inside the vehicle. “At that time, (the officers) put Jessie down and they were on their knees yelling at Brianna that she better not record. She better not,” Diaz said.

A spokesperson for the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police said that it doesn’t support a $15,000 penalty because of an existing process in the courts to determine if a police officer acted appropriately.

Legislation to protect the rights of citizens recording police is among several other measures that seek to provide police reform. Other measures to be considered include:

  • Creating a grant program for departments to promote purchase and use of police body cameras.
  • Data collection of officer-involved shootings (OIS), including the demographics and details of the incidents.
  • Providing law enforcement agencies the ability to analyze a prospective officer’s job history before hiring. According to CBS Denver, officers currently can utilize non-disclosure agreements upon leaving a job to prevent access to records.
  • De-escalation training and profiling prevention training for officers.
  • Appointing a special prosecutor to review situations when an officer is not charged for using deadly force or excessive force.

The bills regarding reviewing records of prospective police hires and data collection of OIS cases were advanced on Wednesday by The Senate Judiciary Committee. Another proposal to allow other agencies to investigate a shooting instead of leaving the investigation exclusively to the jurisdiction where the incident occurred was also advanced by the committee.


Texas Bill Would Restrict Filming Of Police, Segregate Independent Journalists

A bill that would require civilians to stand back between 25 and 100 feet before recording and documenting police activity, introduced by Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) earlier this month, has caused significant controversy. HB 2918 would create a 25-foot buffer zone around police activity requiring citizens to film outside of that area. For an individual filming while also carrying a handgun, the buffer zone would be extended to 100 feet. A person caught filming inside of the 25-foot zone could face 180 days in jail and a $2,000 fine; a person filming while carrying a handgun inside the 100-foot zone could face up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Texas state law currently prohibits people from interfering with police activity.

Villalba wrote on Twitter that he introduced the bill to protect the police. Villalba also insisted that the bill does not prohibit filming. “I thought that was reasonable, 25 feet,” Villalba said. “I measured that out in my office. It didn’t seem to be terribly disruptive. I’m not trying to limit the ability to film. I don’t have any problems with that.”

Attorney Alicia Wagner Calzada pointed out that “When you think about how long 25 feet is, it’s longer than the average pickup truck, it’s longer than the average room, so you could not photograph a police officer within the same room.” Cazalda said some kind of “reasonable buffer”  may be acceptable but that 25 feet as a rule is arbitrary. “If you’re sitting in the backseat of a car, and someone pulls over the driver, and you want to shoot a video of the interaction between the driver and the cop, obviously you can’t be twenty-five feet away. But you’re also really not interfering by sitting in the backseat running your cell phone.”

One critical provision in the bill seeks to exempt certain journalists from the proposed buffer zone. FCC-licensed radio and TV stations, regularly published magazines and qualified newspapers would not have to abide by the 25-foot rule.

A statement from the ACLU of Texas criticized Villalba’s bill, stating “Texans have a First Amendment right to record police officers in public places as they perform their duties. Many high-profile incidents of police abuse, like LAPD officers’ beating of Rodney King, would never have been exposed to public scrutiny but for the citizen journalists on the scene who dared to record conduct that they believed was wrong. HB 2918 would deprive us of an important check against abuse of power by the police.”

Since the bill’s introduction, Villalba acknowledged to The Dallas Morning News that he should have read the bill closer before filing it, and stated that it has some flaws, such as the language that would subject a violator to arrest. Villalba also admitted there may be a problem with the creating two classes of journalists in his bill and articulated his disapproval of cop-watching groups:

And he said he will work on the bill language that creates two classes of video-makers- one employed by established media and the other consisting of everyone else. Villalba conceded the value of well-meant citizens with cameras and bloggers in pajamas, those people who school themselves on issues and bring things to light over social media. He said he doesn’t want to put the screws to them. What his bill IS aimed at, Villalba said, are cop-watch groups that consist of “agitators posing as journalists in order to interfere” with officers doing their job.

“They follow the police scanner, and as soon as they hear about an arrest,” Villalba said, “they immediately get in the vicinity of the officer and start taunting the officer while the arrest is occurring.”

GRAPHIC VIDEO: Salinas Police Shoot & Kill Man On Busy Street Corner

Salinas, Cal.- Police officers in Salinas, California shot and killed a man they allege swung garden shears at them on a busy street corner.

The officers responded to a report that a man on Elkington Avenue, at 12:14 p.m., had attempted to break into a home and was threatening to kill them, according to the police.

Officers found the suspect walking down Elkington Avenue, as captured on a witnesses cell phone camera. The police allege that the suspect had gardening shears in his backpack.

Subsequently the officers demanded that the man get on the ground but he refused, said police. The police claim they attempted to use a Taser on the suspect but that it was ineffective and he simply kept walking away.

Officers said that the man eventually pulled the garden shears from the backpack and began swinging it at them, although from the footage this is unclear.

Fearing being stabbed, the two officers fired on the man, according to police. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The cell phone video footage captured by onlookers shows the officers following the man. Witnesses can be heard on the video screaming, “Why the f— didn’t you guys just Taser him? You guys didn’t even try.”

This witness’s statement seemingly calls into question the police statement that they attempted to use a Taser on the suspect before fatally shooting him.

Both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation into the shooting. This is the third officer involved killing this year in Salinas and the second of the month.


Follow Jay on Facebook and on Twitter @SirMetropolis

Tennessee Deputy Fired After Choking College Student

Knoxville, TN, April 28, 2014- A Tennessee deputy has been fired after being photographed choking an unresistant college student late Saturday night. Frank Phillips was caught on camera choking the clearly obedient student while two other officers handcuffed the man.

Law enforcement had been called to investigate a house party located in the vicinity of the University of Tennessee. The party had migrated outside into the streets, and several people were arrested. Jarod Dotson, 21, had allegedly been carrying an open alcoholic beverage and was detained for public intoxication and resisting arrest.

According to the police report, Dotson “began to physically resist officers’ instructions to place his hands behind his back, and at one point grabbed on to an officer’s leg.”

John Messner, a freelance photographer, took pictures of the incident between Dotson, Phillips and two other officers. Messner’s photos challenge the accusation of Dotson resisting arrest, and also call attention to the excessive force used by Phillips. Messner’s photographs show Dotson standing peacefully before being choked by Phillips until he fell on his knees.

The next day, Phillips was terminated from his position by Knox County Jimmy “J.J.” Jones:

“In my 34 years of law enforcement experience, excessive force has never been tolerated. After an investigation by the Office of Professional Standards, I believe excessive force was used in this incident. Therefore, Officer Phillips’ employment with the Knox County Sheriff’s Office is terminated immediately. “

Sheriff Jones called for additional police accountability as he continued, “This incident provides a perfect example of why we are in the process of purchasing officer worn body cameras (video and audio recordings) so incidents like this will be fully documented.”

An investigation will be pursued to determine if any more action should be taken regarding the incident.

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Massachusetts Man Arrested For Recording Police Officer, Charged With Illegal Wiretapping

A Massachusetts man is arrested and has his cell phone seized for recording a police officer.  The charge? Unlawful Wiretapping.

The incident happened in Fall River, Massachusetts.  The man, George Thompson, says he was recording a police officer who was out of control.  In January, Thompson was sitting on his front porch when we saw Officer Tom Barboza on his phone and swearing loudly.  Officer Barboza was working a paid detail at the time.

Thompson pulled out his own cell phone and began recording but within moments Barboza rushed him, arrested him, charging him with unlawful wiretapping.

In Massachusetts it’s perfectly legal to record video and audio of a public official, including police, as long as they are performing their duties and the recording isn’t hidden. The police report which was filed by Officer Barboza shows that Thompson acknowledged he was recording the officer.

Thompson was released from jail but police kept his phone for two days after the arrest.  Thompson claims that when he got the phone back, all the videos had been erased.  Police claim that Thompson was the one who erased them.

Rhode Island station, WPRI,  interviewed Fall River Police Chief Daniel Racine who says that an investigation into who erased the video is now underway.  But Racine also says that if in fact one of his officers did so, the punishment would be severe.

“If a Fall River police officer erased that video, he’s fired,” Chief Racine said. “And I would suspect the district attorney would take out charges.”