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Privacy and safety are key concerns over videotaping police

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In 2011, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit made a unanimous ruling that private citizens have the constitutional right to videotape police. On the surface, that ruling should serve to settle any additional debate.

This is what LEOs have to deal with now – click on image to view video

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However, as discussion about the issue intensifies again in the aftermath of the shooting in South Carolina, officials on either side, for and against, are voicing their opinions and their objections.

The knee-jerk reaction of the more liberal sections of the populace is that citizens should be given virtually-unfettered permission to record the police officers in the midst of their duties. They will point to recent and much-discussed instances of supposedly excessive force.

The polar opposite of that point of view, according to The Huffington Post, is House Bill 2918, currently in the Texas House of Representatives. This bill would make it against the law for private citizens to make recordings of police within 25 feet, or if armed, 100 feet.

The bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Jason Villalba, who said, “My bill… just asks filmers to stand back a little so as not to interfere with law enforcement.”

Because it in essence goes against the 2011 ruling, the bill is unlikely to pass.

The flip side of allowing private citizens to record police is equipping officers with “on-officer recording systems.” According to a Department of Justice study, approximately 20% all of police agencies already use these devices in some way. The remaining three-fourths are evaluating the efficacy and practicality. Among law enforcement officials, the idea is that officer-worn cameras will protect the officers from unwanted lawsuits and accusations.

Officer fired over ‘citizen journalist’ video – click on image to view video
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That idea also has its critics, and that criticism makes for strange bedfellows.

The American Civil Liberties Union opposes a bill in Flrodia, because as it is currently written, the bill grants exemptions to the public release of certain types of body-camera footage based upon the need for privacy.

And Michelle Richardson, the public policy director for the ACLU of Florida, says, “Police body cameras can be a win for both police officers and the communities they serve only if they are governed by policies that balance accountability and privacy.”

Some law enforcement agencies in various locations also find themselves at odds with their community’s policies pertaining to officer-worn cameras. For example, according to the Miami Herald, in Miami, the camera has to be manually activated by the officer.

This small extra step has the potential to be a huge problem. The city’s police union said “if an officer hesitates for even a second in a life-threatening situation, it can cost that officer his or her life.”

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