When Tommy Frane and William Kilgore began filming an arrest earlier this year, they probably did not anticipate being arrested as well.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a similar case in New England on Aug. 26 that recording active police officers is protected First Amendment speech – a decision that rightfully allows officers to be held accountable by those they are meant to protect.
Frane and Kilgore were arrested when they taped Tarpon Springs policemen as they performed an arrest in January. When Frane and Kilgore refused to surrender their cameras, the policemen seized their cameras and phones and arrested the pair, according to wtsp.com, for an act that is not illegal.
Frane and Kilgore were not interfering with the policemen’s duties when they filmed the arrest, according to WTSP. Moreover, dashboard cameras were already recording the officers. Had the police not interfered with Frane and Kilgore, their film would have simply depicted a lawful arrest of a suspect – evidence of the good officers of Tarpon Springs.
Instead, it depicts an embarrassment – not unlike the case that made it to the First Circuit Court of Appeals – that raises more questions about the officers’ reactions.
In that case, Simon Glik, a Boston lawyer, filmed three police officers as they arrested a man on a park bench. Glik, who filmed within 10 feet of the arrest according to the Boston Globe, was arrested when he refused to surrender his camera phone – an arrest the court ruled was made without probable cause.
Glik, like Frane and Kilgore, saw his rights violated under the false guise of the wiretapping statute.
In its conclusion, the court stated, “The presence of probable cause was not even arguable here. The allegations of the complaint establish that Glik was openly recording the police officers and that they were aware of his surveillance … We see no basis in the law for a reasonable officer to conclude that such a conspicuous act of recording was ‘secret,’ merely because the officer did not have actual knowledge of whether audio was being recorded.”
Law enforcement officers do have legitimate concerns with photographers watching them do their jobs. People who film with poor-quality cameras must move very close to officers to see details, which could get in the way or put the officers in danger. Yet, despite the risk, the act is not illegal and curious citizens should have the right to ask questions of their law enforcement officials.
It is good that people have the right to film law enforcement, as it increase accountability of U.S. police officers everywhere. Nonetheless, police officers are Americans too, and should be respected. Exercise your right to film civil servants, but give them the space necessary to serve and protect.