Watching The Watchmen, With a Record Button

American Cop Magazine runs a story from a cop who supports the right to film police officers on duty:

Should we ever expect to have a right to privacy when we’re in public? I don’t think so; cops are public employees. We can record comments and statements made by suspects/arrestees sitting in the back of our police cars where there’s no expectation of privacy. Thus, there should be an even lower standard of privacy outside the police car. We routinely record and surveil citizens without their permission, so why should there be a separate set of rules regarding them recording or filming us? If a bad guy doesn’t have to consent to being filmed, cops shouldn’t either. Should Internal Affairs be required to get consent to film or record from a cop suspected of criminal or unprofessional conduct?

It’s my understanding wiretapping laws are being applied to such cases where citizens have been arrested for taping officers in the course of their duties. Some states, (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia) are “2-party consent” states, meaning both (or all) parties must consent before taping. Should this then make all cop surveillance taboo? How slippery of a slope does this need to be?

Law enforcement has been using dash-cams for years, and now recording devices are worn on an officer’s uniform — think TASER’s AXON or EHS’ VIDMIC. I don’t know of any statutes declaring only the police are allowed to collect evidence and that’s the purpose behind these devices. They’re also used to mitigate liability in the event of a misconduct allegation, but it’s still evidence. What’s really disturbing is the officers who appear to be misbehaving are the ones reacting in outrage they’re being videotaped. Perhaps there’s a lesson here?

Perhaps so.

My home state has a law that basically states that any conversation can be recorded so long as a participant in the conversation is aware of the recording (so you can’t bug someone’s apartment, but you can carry a recorder in your pocket), which seems to me the way it should be for both audio and video (the distribution of said video is a more complex issue). Whether we’re dealing with police officers or not. This is, I guess, a more extreme view. But it’s less of an issue when it comes to public officials operating in an official capacity. It’s genuinely rare that I completely do not know where the other side is coming on the issue (beyond cynical aspersions), but I genuinely do not understand the counterargument here. At most, the police officers should be able to request an immediate copy of the full footage so that it’s not later sliced-and-diced. But beyond that? I’m really at a loss.

I’ve written previously on the issue here and here.

[h/t Jon Last]

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. It’s hard to believe that the desire not to have cops filmed isn’t a PR/CYA thing.

  2. That’s the below-the-board reason, but what’s the above-board one? I mean, most people at least try to come up with benign rationales for even their most self-interested views. But it’s like they don’t even need to feel the need to justify it.

    I might peruse the site and see how the letters to the editor read.

    • If you do keep us posted. My knee jerk answer is that cops aren’t necessarily used to being questioned in ways that aren’t easily responded to in a “well of course he says that, he’s a punk we were arresting” way. If so the better PR responses will evolve soon enough.

      But I recognize that might just be laziness on my part.

      • Oh, I think your knee-jerk response is right. But it sure seems that they usually come up with some other reason to make the case that “What’s best for me is best for society.” I’d be interested in having that discussion. But instead, it’s more along the lines of “No want.” How do you debate against that?

        I scanned through the comment section. Almost all supportive, the vast majority by non-cops. One cop did say:

        “I usually like Ms. Huntington’s articles but this one annoyed me. I think she forgot how much fun is it to have a cell phone camera stuck in your face when your dealing with a perp, or maybe they didn’t have cell phones the last time she was on the street. I don’t know.”

        No want.

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