Shut That ****ing Thing Off Before I Slap You

I’ve blogged before about videotaping police, and boy did I think I had a story this week when someone linked me to the video below.
Despite a late August ruling from the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals that largely ended any debate about whether it’s legal to make video and audio recordings of police in New England, a UMass Lowell Police officer threatened someone for videotaping him.
Student Brendan Brown, a junior, was leaving a friend’s house on University Avenue on Oct. 8 about 1 a.m. He noticed police breaking up a fight nearby.
Brown thought police were being a bit aggressive with some kids who were hurt, and so he stood back about 15 to 20 feet and started recording with his cell phone. He held the phone in front of his face, where it was clearly visible.
The video tells the next part of the story. Before you play it, though, be aware there is explicit language.

Brown tells me he was shocked. He grew up in Lynn with police all around, and was largely very thankful for their presence. This isn’t a kid who has a bone to pick with police. He’s studying Criminal Justice.
Brown took the threat seriously, stopped recording, put his phone in his pocket and walked back to his dorm. Then he uploaded the video.
“I thought it was something people should see,” he told me.
The university became aware of the video and UMass Lowell Police Chief Randy Brashears started an immediate investigation.
Brown met with Deputy Chief Ronald Dickerson, and told me the meeting went quite well. Brown could not identify the officer who made the remark, but Brashears told me the officer came forward on his own.
Instead of pushing back here and trying to claim, as Boston Police did, that it was legal for an officer to behave like this, Brashears sent me this email regarding the results of his investigation.
“The officer has been interviewed and his version was consistent with all of the witnesses, in that he admitted to making the thoughtless remark.
We will use this opportunity to not only retrain the officer but the entire department concerning the law over taping police in public.”

In light of the First Circuit’s opinion in Commonwealth V Glik, it’s pretty clear that as long as you have your recording device in plain sight and stay out of the way, it is legal to video and audio record police.
(Please note that hiding a recording device and recording in secret, however, is still a felony in Massachusetts, and that the SJC affirmed in 2001 that that law is constitutional).
This issue has been debated across the country, though, and continues to be debated in some places outside the First Circuit. It was really refreshing to see police respond to this so professionally, instead of circling the wagons.
Brown too sounded pretty happy about the results, and said he has no desire to see the officer fired for this. He hopes campus police simply follow whatever their protocol is for dealing with this type of incident.
When I spoke to him on Saturday, Brown said the student government was still planning to discuss this, but that he is pretty much just ready to get back to class.
I’ve gotta say, I’m kind of impressed all around here. Brown showed a very mature reaction by walking away from this situation instead of having a confrontation, and UMass Lowell Police responded to this in a serious way.
I think my primary concern at this point is that if all situations were handled like this the newspaper would run out of fodder. Thank goodness not everyone handles their business quite this well.
To read the entire ruling from the First Circuit in Commonwealth V Glik, just click here.
I didn’t want to make this entry too long, but the ruling was issued when officers involved in the Boston arrest tried to get the lawsuit against them dismissed. The court refused to do that, and those officers are now being sued, along with the city of Boston, in U.S. District Court.
The case is currently in discovery, and a trial date has not been set.
I should also note that I’ve been recording police for over three years now, and find that most of the time a video recording of events around the city is a benefit for police. I’ve also never had an officer ask or tell me to stop recording.
Knowing about this First Circuit opinion is also good for police, though, since the First Circuit ruling means officers can be personally liable if they wrongly arrest someone for recording them.
At this point, here in New England, only the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn this decision. The ruling has not been appealed.


2 responses to “Shut That ****ing Thing Off Before I Slap You

  1. I would of press charges on that officer. Just because he has a badge like me doesnt mean he is different then anyone eles !!

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