The police war on video

Video cameras are everywhere - thanks to cheap storage - but if you video the police you may end up in the slammer for wiretapping. Though it's not a crime to shoot video in public, you can be punished anyway. Is that right?
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Video cameras are everywhere - thanks to cheap storage - but if you video the police you may end up in the slammer for wiretapping. How can that be?

Our liberties under attack Michael Allison was thrown in jail for bringing an audio recorder to his court case - and charged with 5 Class 1 felonies - by a judge who said he violated her right to privacy in a public courtroom.

In LA, high schooler Jeremy Marks, 18, was thrown in a tough adult jail for 8 months for "attempted lynching" after using his cell phone to video campus cop hitting a 15 year old. He hadn't touched anyone.

In Oakland, cops tried to confiscate cell phones after the New Year's Day killing of 21 year old Oscar Grant lying on the ground by an Oakland transit cop. They failed and the videos were on YouTube in hours.

In the blog Photography is not a crime, Carlos Miller, a Miami journalist, documents police attacks on camera-wielding civilians. He's been busted twice himself for photographing police - and beaten all charges in court.

It's about avoiding accountability Ever since the Rodney King case - whose beating by cops was recorded by a neighbor's VHS camcorder - police have known the danger of getting their actions recorded. Many jurisdictions have started installing car cams to document traffic stops.

But in Prince Georges County, MD, a TV reporter was stopped and roughed up and all 7 cop cams malfunctioned, leaving no record of the stop. What are the chances?

In Ft. Worth, folks who challenge their DWI arrests often find that there is no cop cam video - it's missing or damaged. In Ft. Lauderdale, officer Jeff Overcash claimed that a man was drunk, belligerent and resisting arrest - but a video showed he lied - and he was forced to resign.

The cost Police can arrest you on flimsy charges, book, fingerprint and hold you overnight. Co-dependent prosecutors and judges can cause you expensive grief - bail bonds, lawyers, lost work - and you are at their mercy. Even if shooting video was legal - which it is.

On the other hand, police rarely face discipline for wrongful arrest. And prosecutors are given absolute immunity. You get major hassle and they get - nothing.

The Storage Bits take The U.S. Constitution was designed to rein in the power of government - including police and prosecutors - over we the people. And cheap video cams are a great way to document real-life abuses of power.

Legislators need to be clear that we can record police. We should expect of police what we expect of Little Leaguers - that they play by the rules. Is it a good to put Jeremy Marks in jail for 8 months because he shot some video and his parents couldn't afford bail?

But we can't rely on the courts for justice. Recently Supreme Court Umpire Scalia said the Constitution does not protect women from discrimination - and they're 51% of the population. Videographers don't stand a chance with him.

Ultimately the police should and will adjust to public video. Why? Because bad guys outnumber bad police - and video will show that.

A company is building a 250 petabyte data store for cop cam videos. Eventually that could be an enormous help in training police - and spotting bad guys.

But that will happen only if storage prices continue to decline and our ability to manage massive data continues to improve. And cops adjust to being watched.

We all have our challenges.

Comments welcome, of course. I'm indebted to an article in Reason, for much of this post's background.

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