Sunday, June 26, 2011

U Mad, officer?

I found it interesting that the LulzSec leak of documents from the Arizona Police Department coincided with the FBI's decision to drop the case against Minnesota's most notorious gang, The Metro Gang Strike Force, investigating their 2005-2008 asset forfeiture free-for-all. Not that the two are related in any way, just that despite the negative press online anarchist groups such as LulzSec garner, there seems to be an increasing need for their actions.

The public would like to believe that citizen abuse in law enforcement is minimal, or that the actions of one good cop can take down even the most embedded hierarchy of corruption. We like to believe that in the end, the bad guys will lose, and the good guys will prevail. But as we saw with the Metro Gang Strike Force, which was brought to an end by a "good cop", this isn't necessarily the case. Sure, the Task Force was disbanded after the destruction of public's trust in them made doing their job impossible. But as for the consequences for the members of the Task Force that preyed on the public for years, there are none to be found. The abandonment of the case comes on the heals of the US Justice Department's announcement that no more charges will be filed against the members due to the lack of evidence against them. This would be the same evidence that was destroyed, in the middle of the night at their New Brighton office that just so happened to have it's security surveillance system disabled while the mass shredding of documents took place. All of the officers are presumably free to keep their jobs within law enforcement. Meanwhile, the public has coughed up a cool 3 million so far to pay off the civil lawsuit against the task force for harassment and theft.

Is it any wonder that the citizens are starting to become upset about this sort of thing, or are taking matters into their own hands? As technology allows citizens to document police abuses in real-time, the myth that the benefit of the doubt should always fall on the side of the boys in blue is slowly fading away in the eyes of an increasingly cynical public. Demigod Officer Friendly has been exposed as nothing more then a mere human, prone to the same flaws the rest of the populace is prone to, yet held to a noticeably much lower standard then civilians are for their mistakes and misdeeds.

But he's fighting back.

The Rochester story (in which a woman was charged with "Obstructing Governmental Administration" for standing in her own yard and filming what she believed to be a questionable traffic stop) just took a juvenile turn:

Basking in the viral glory bestowed upon one of its officers this week, the Rochester Police Department resorted to petty retaliatory and intimidation tactics against citizens attending a community meeting Thursday afternoon.

The citizens were attending a meeting to discuss the arrest of Emily Good, the 28-year-old woman who was jailed for videotaping cops from her front yard, when they realized cops were outside issuing tickets for having parked more than 12 inches from the curb.

Know your place, citizen. Or we will give you really silly parking tickets.

I think my favorite part of this story is the police officer claiming that her recording is a "threat" to his safety because even though we never hear it on the audio, he claims she was making "anti-police" comments. Because making "anti-police" comments is all it takes to waive your rights away. I do really like that her neighbors stuck up for her (one called 911 when they perceived she was being harassed, because if for nothing else, there at least would be a record of the incident). I don't know if you would of seen the same citizen camaraderie 10 years ago.

At least she got some footage (and was able to pass her phone off to a neighbor), which is more then I can say for the Jim Tucker from The Fight Back, the reporter who last week produced the largest threat America has ever seen by trying to take a single cell phone photograph while covering a public meeting regarding the DC Taxi Commission. Reason Blogger Jim Epstein, who was also arrested when he filmed the harassment and arrest of Tucker, talks about the arrests:

About 30 minutes into the meeting, I witnessed journalist Pete Tucker snap a still photo of the proceedings on his camera phone. A few minutes later, two police officers arrested Tucker. I filmed Tucker's arrest and the audience's subsequent outrage using my cell phone.

A few minutes later, as I was attempting to leave the building, I overheard the female officer who had arrested Tucker promise a woman, who I presumed to be an employee of the Taxi Commission, that she would confiscate my phone. Reason intern Kyle Blaine, overheard her say, "Do you want his phone? I can get his phone."

But at the very least, the two reporters (I'm assuming) received their phones back in one piece. Narces Benoit's cell phone was smashed to bits after he recorded a Miami Police shootout earlier this month, which you never would have known about if he didn't act quickly to hide his SD card inside his mouth.

I could play this game all day (hey, at least Benoit wasn't charged under wiretapping laws that would throw him in prison for 16 years!). Law Enforcement really, really doesn't like it when you film them. Recording the police is now basically illegal in three states (Illinois, Massachusetts, and of course, Maryland), loosely based in wiretapping and eavesdropping laws that require two-party consent for filming. If the law isn't on their side, or if they are ignorant of the laws that are in place, officers are often able to threaten or detain citizens and confiscate their equipment with little to no recourse for violating citizen's rights - in fact, as we've seen in the past (and will more then likely see in the Rochester case) the burden is often on the citizen who, if they cannot be charged with filming the officers, will be charged under various other bullshit charges instead, which will more then likely be dropped or cost the department money when a civil case is eventually filed. But instead of training officers on conflict resolution and the legal rights of citizens in regards to record police, it appears they'd rather train officers on the dangers of OpenWatch instead. And if an increasingly skeptical public cannot obtain justice using those routes, is it any wonder that eventually, they would turn to vigilantism instead?

In reality, the attempt by law enforcement to prevent any sort of civilian documentation of their interactions of the public makes them look fairly suspect on it's own (it's almost as if they know the job tends to attract a certain type of personality that could cause problems down the road). I've often thought that all interactions between police and the public should be documented on film, as it not only protects the public from the police, but also the police against the public (dash cams in patrol cars exist for this very reason). And if there is still a segment of the population that honestly believes that the bad guys always have it coming, with or without due process, at the very least they should support these sorts of safeguards if for nothing more then the fact that corrupt law enforcement is costing the taxpayers millions in civil litigation payouts. If an officer conducts themselves with full accordance to the law (and many do), I see no reason why they wouldn't want the extra protection of filmed interactions, as a quick and false claim of assault has the potential to destroy that officer's career and rob him or her of their pension. This is an easy way to keep both the public and the police safe without violating anyone's civil rights, without any sort of vigilante actions that have the potential to expose classified information, without draining away city budgets through lawsuits. So what's the holdup at this point?

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