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Camera shy

In this age of selfies, there's one group which is increasingly reluctant to be photographed:  police officers, especially those engaged in less than professional conduct while dealing with miscreants.  One of the more recent was Officer Michael Slager of North Charleston, South Carolina, shooting an unarmed black man in the back as he was fleeing after a traffic stop. 

Or non-miscreants; one of my favorites is this video, showing New York City police officer Patrick Pogan decking a bicycle rider during the Critical Mass ride in 2008.  

The response of the police to the videotaping of their misdeeds is to shoot -- er, arrest -- the messenger.  For example, Anthony Graber's helmet camera captured his stop for speeding by a plainclothes detective in an unmarked car:

He posted the video to Youtube.  A couple days later the Maryland police showed up at his door with a search warrant, and seized four computers, two laptops, and his camera.  He was charged with "interception of a wire communication," a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison, based on a Maryland law which prohibits taping a conversation unless both parties agree.

The use of "eavesdropping" laws, at least in those states which require the consent of both parties to the taping, is the common method of stifling efforts to videotape police officers, but it's not a particularly effective one.  Those laws prohibit taping where one has a "reasonable expectation of privacy," and it's hard to make the case that a police officer engaged in a confrontation with a citizen on a public street has that expectation.  That's what led to the judge tossing the charges against Graber, and other courts have been similarly unreceptive:  the Illinois Supreme Court threw out that state's law on First Amendment grounds, and the First, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh U.S. Circuit courts have come to the same conclusion.

Cops have gotten smarter about avoiding the cameras, but not smart enough.  Here's the video of a recent raid by the Santa Ana Police Department on a medical marijuana dispensary in May:

The first thing the cops did after they had everyone leave the store was to pull out the video cameras and the DVD drive, blithely unaware of the backup video system that the storeowner had installed, which captured them pulling out the video cameras and the DVD drive.  They also caught the police dissing an amputee, playing darts, eating food, and otherwise acting as if they were in a clubhouse rather than engaged in a raid.

The local police chief indicated after the release of the video that the department is conducting an "internal investigation." 

Not that cameras will necessarily dissuade the police from engaging in misconduct.  Pogan, the officer who shoulder-blocked a bike rider into the curb, lied about what happened -- he claimed in his report, before the video came out, that the bike rider ran into him -- and was convicted of a felony.  The judge simply released him, spurning not only the prosecution's request for prison time, but the defense request for community service as a sentence.

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