Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Crime Hard to Find in Video Recording

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Crime Hard to Find in Video Recording

Article excerpt

'You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop" claims a headline on an article at an American Civil Liberties Union website. But can you, really?

The ACLU cites court decisions to back up the stance that, in public places, you can photograph or videotape anyone. News photographers and tourists have long done it. Public servants are not any more exempt than the rest of us.

And the ACLU explains the obvious reasons why it should remain legal to capture images showing police at work -- whether at their best or worst -- especially now that police make such widespread use of cameras to watch others.

Video of arrests often show that accusations against police are wrong, or over-hyped. And, in other cases, law enforcement agencies should be just as glad to get videos that show cops behaving badly. They want to know about that stuff, too, right?

Still, it is a rare person, cop or not, who feels totally at ease with a camera focused on their every move. It isn't hard to understand that North Port Police officers doing a traffic stop could have felt bothered by a bystander with a camera phone.

I just can't see how their feelings can possibly justify arresting that man, as happened in January.

Problem is, such arrests or threats of arrest happen all too frequently, in Florida and elsewhere. And no matter how often cases are dismissed, that isn't stopping officers from arresting people or bullying them to turn cameras off.

Ironically, most of the video that computer technician Steve Horrigan got in January while watching a traffic stop in North Port is as exciting as watching a faucet drip. The only interesting part is when officers talked to Horrigan.

The first time, an officer told him to move farther away. He did, and I thought both men acted just fine. "You can take video and pictures if you feel it's necessary. It's a free world," the officer said.

Not so much, it turned out. When Horrigan later moved to tape a drug-sniffing dog, the police response changed. An officer walked over and told Horrigan that "it's illegal to videotape us."

As I heard that claim on Horrigan's now-public recording, Horrigan was totally correct to respond that there was no such law. …

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