By PoliceOne Staff
BALTIMORE — Baltimore police released an updated policy addressing citizens' ability to videotape officers as a related court case against the department continues.
A hearing is set to take place Monday in the ACLU of Maryland's federal suit against a city officer who allegedly deleted a video of a confrontation at the 2010 Preakness Stakes, according to The Associated Press. Christopher Sharp's constitutional rights were allegedly violated when a Sgt. took his phone for evidence, and the case comes on the heels of heightened national attention to the issue.
The directive states officers cannot "prevent or prohibit" taking of photos or video depicting law enforcement activities in public, The Baltimore Sun reported, which department commanders say has been the standard rule for some time but has not been a formal written guideline until now.
"This is an extension of the citizen's right to see," chief legal counsel for Mark Grimes said. A police officer "wouldn't go up to a citizen at a crime scene and tell them to close their eyes," he said, "so the officer can't tell them they can't film."
If the filming is "hindering" and the cameraperson is breaking laws, however, officers may arrest — it is the mere taking of photos or video, the order states, that "does not constitute probable cause and should never be the reason for any arrest."
Cameras that may contain evidence of a crime, in most cases, require a search-and-seizure warrant. Officers can temporarily take the device but cannot view images until a decision on the warrant is made, the policy dictates.
"Few police have been given clear guidelines," Darrel W. Stephens, a former chief of police in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., said. "I think it's a big step for the city of Baltimore to do that."
Baltimore police seek to dismiss Sharp's lawsuit and say the issues it brings up have been addressed through the implementation and distribution of the policies, which have been "emailed to officers, taught in training, described in daily roll calls" and appear below:
Police photo, video policy
Upon discovery that a bystander is observing, photographing, or video recording the conduct of police activity:
1. DO NOT impede or prevent the bystander's ability to continue doing so based solely on your discovery of his/her presence.
2. DO NOT seize or otherwise demand to take possession of any camera or video recording device the bystander may possess based solely on your discovery of his/her presence.
3. DO NOT demand to review, manipulate, or erase any images or video recording captured by the bystander based solely on your discovery of his/her presence.
4. For investigative purposes, be mindful of the potential that the bystander may witness, or capture images/video of events considered at some later time to be material evidence.
5. BEFORE taking any police action which would stop a bystander from observing, photographing, or video recording the conduct of police activity, Officer(s) must have observed the bystander committing some act [deemed criminal, such as obstruction, disorderly conduct or interfering with an officer's lawful duties].
Source: Baltimore Police Department General Order J-16