New York: Another Arrest for Recording the Police!

We really hadn’t planned to return to the issue this week, but yet another New Yorker has been arrested for recording police activity. It happened last Friday, July 30th. The arrestee was Phil Datz, a professional cameraman – a credentialed member of the press.

The charge, once again, was obstruction of governmental administration, a crime. According to the Long Island Press, Datz was hauled off to a police station, where mug shots were taken, and he was fingerprinted. As we’ve said before, the potential penalty is $1,000 and/or a year in jail.

The whole thing is absolutely outrageous – beyond a mere exclamation mark’s power to express.

In fairness it must be said, though, that the arrest obviously embarrassed the officer’s superiors. Another article in the Long Island Press indicates that the Police Commissioner wants the charge ‘nullified‘. And that’s not surprising, since Datz, throughout the recorded encounter, is clearly following the department’s own published guidelines for the media.

The guidelines themselves bear looking at: bystanders have the right to remain in the area – outside police lines – “provided their presence and activities are lawful and do not unlawfully compromise the safety and outcome of police activity or violate the privacy of the detainee.”

Bystanders may: (1) ‘observe the incident’; (2) ‘produce recorded media including still photos, video and audio recordings in any format’; and (3) ‘comment regarding the incident’. These are, in fact, excellent guidelines: they neatly summarize both the civilian’s constitutional rights at the scene of police activity, and the limitations the state may lawfully impose on the exercise of those rights.

Nevertheless, as the video demonstrates, rights and guidelines mean nothing to a man who has both power and a yen to use it – right now, on you. The bravery of citizens like Phil Datz and Emily Good has to be commended.

Their bravery is especially commendable in given a regrettable pattern to be seen all over the country: attempts to trample (sometimes literally) on the public’s rights to see and document what government is doing. Here’s a link to an editorial posted by Glens Falls’ Post-Star. It’s got a little history and a brief overview of law enforcement push-back against civilians who record their activity. On the scary side, but necessary reading.