Supreme Court: Go Ahead Citizen And Record Police Officers

For a while now, especially since the arrival of YouTube ordinary citizens have been attempting to make police accountable for their actions by videoing them. Many times police officers do not have a problem being videoed. However the State of Illinois does not like their officers being videoed and sought to impose a penalty of up to 15 years in prison tied to a 50-year-old anti-eavesdropping law. On Monday that was upheld a lower court's ruling that the 50-year-old law was unconstitutional and violated the First Amendment rights of individuals who record police officers in public.

The Huffington Post reports,

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday delivered another blow to a 50-year-old anti-eavesdropping law in Illinois, choosing to let stand a lower court finding that key parts of the hotly debated law run counter to constitutional protections of free speech.

In that critical lower-court ruling in May, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the law – one of the toughest of its kind in the country – violates the First Amendment when used against those who record police officers doing their jobs in public.

To bring this into perspective it was not questionable whether or not it was ok for citizens to video police officers actions when Rodney King was attacked, was it? Of course not. Everyone knew it was perfectly legal, even important to the legal proceedings.

In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Rodney King incident, Joel Rubin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "Police now work in a YouTube world in which cellphones double as cameras, news helicopters transmit close-up footage of unfolding police pursuits, and surveillance cameras capture arrests or shootings. Police officials are increasingly recording their officers. Compared to the cops who beat King, officers these days hit the streets with a new reality ingrained in their minds: Someone is always watching."

The King incident brought new awareness to how police officers are to conduct themselves. In fact LAPD Sgt. Heather Fungaroli told new recruits, “I don’t care if you’re in a bathroom taking care of your personal business…whatever you do, assume it will be caught on video.”

However, it wasn't until 2007 that recording police officers became an issue. On the evening of October 1, Simon Glik was walking by the Boston Common we he witnessed three police officers attempting to arrest a man using what he thought was excessive force. As soon as he heard a bystander yelling at the police that they were hurting the man and demanding that they stop, Glik pulled out his cell phone and began recording.

As soon as the man was subdued, one of the officers turned to Glik and told him that he thought he had taken enough pictures. Gilk repolied that he had videoed the event and that he witnessed the officer punch the man. It was then that the officer arrested Gilk, put him in handcuffs, and charged him with violating Massachusetts' wiretap law, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner! Yes, you read those charges correctly.

Gilk attempted to handle the situation by filing an internal affairs complaint. This did nothing. So in February of 2010 Glik filed a civil rights action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. He claimed that his First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the officers. Naturally the three officers tried to quash the action, but the judge in the case threw out their request and ruled that Glik's “First Amendment right publicly to record the activities of police officers on public business is established."

Finally, nearly a year later, on August 16, 2011 the court decided in Glik's favor. The 24-page decision read in part:

Gathering information about government officials in a form that can readily be disseminated to others serves a cardinal First Amendment interest in protecting and promoting "the free discussion of governmental affairs." This is particularly true of law enforcement officials who are granted substantial discretion that may be misused to deprive individuals of their liberties…

We conclude, based on the facts alleged, that Glik was exercising clearly-established First Amendment rights in filming the officers in a public space, and that his clearly-established Fourth Amendment rights were violated by his arrest without probable cause.

There was also the case of Christopher Sharp in May of 2010 and in that incident, which had a similar outcome to Glik's except in the case of Sharp, the U.S. Department of Justice weighed in on the case by filing a statement of interest, which read:

This litigation presents constitutional questions of great moment in this digital age: whether private citizens have a First Amendment right to record police officers in the public discharge of their duties, and whether officers violate citizens’ Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they seize and destroy such recordings without a warrant or due process. The United States urges this Court to answer both of those questions in the affirmative. The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.

Obviously lower level courts and even a Justice Department backing, in an Obama administration, concluded that there was nothing criminal about citizens videoing police officers. Officers are not above the law. Their role is to be servants of the citizens, not tyrannical thugs. It seems many police officers think they are somehow free to video a citizens every move with surveillance cameras in their cars, at their buildings and out in the open, but they do not want citizens recording them.

Recording of police officers violates no one's rights. In ensures the privacy rights of both officers and citizens. It may be annoying, but that's just tough. Many things about "free speech" can be annoying and even disagreeable, but that doesn't mean that people who disagree with you are not allowed to speak.

The ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court blocking Illinois' unconstitutional law and kicking it back to the lower court should be clear enough that this should never come up again, but it will. Liberals and tyrants will not rest until the freedoms of the people are thoroughly cast under foot and trampled upon. Therefore, we must be ever vigilant against them.

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  • [email protected]

    I applaud this. Chicago Police think they are above the law and I will be posting lots of Chicago Police officers NOT doing their jobs. Want proof? look at Chicago's murder rate, look at all the drive-by shootings. I recently went to a funeral of someone who was killed by a drive-by shooting. Its sad but unless Chicago Police are not put in line, violence will only get worse.

  • doug63

    GSA= give something away....TSA= take something away. If you video a TSA goon fondeling a minor you will probably be arested for making kiddie porn.

  • Gerald

    I noticed the Wordsmithing in the Justice Dept statement that differs from the same (important difference) two word reference the District Court used. They do it so often dishonestly, you can't help but notice it all the time, intended or not...

    US District Court: Government Officials

    Justice Dept: Government Officers

    In this case, it was a case involving Officers, but I thought it odd, as if DOJ was editing or correcting the choice of wording the court used. After Holder's "brainwash" statement on firearms, nothing is beyond belief in his motives.

  • Citizen for truth

    it is not the taping that is a problem, but the incomplete or edited version that is blasted across the media biasing the public and distorting the truth.

  • Gil Jones

    Ah yes, the camera, truly a 'fair witness'...Semper Fi

  • Gregg

    Finally there's an interest in Adherence to the Constitution? Very Interesting!!

  • David S. McQueen

    I'd remind folks that the police have no legal obligation to protect citizens. They do have a legal duty to enforce the law and often that entails subduing bad guys, making it appear the cops are protecting citizens. As for the TSA officers: people whine about the staff at the airport but the real criticism should go toward those in Washington who make policy in the TSA and the DHS. But NO ONE criticizes them!

    • doug63

      why do the police cars say "to protect and serve" on the side? remember, when seconds count, police are minutes away.

    • David S. McQueen

      Doug: That's just a public relations ploy. "Protect and Serve" has no legal meaning or value. It's like the "Democratic Party" has no relation to democracy.

  • Al

    Some of your comments are ridiculous. Cops in general do not have an issue with this ruling because as someone said they also use video as a protection. The problem is that many do not respect them when they are trying to do their job. Want to video, go ahead. Just don't cause trouble for yhe officer who is trying to do his job. Video out of the way. Otherwise you will get arrested, not for videoing, but for obstructing the officer from doing his job. You don't have a right to get in their face just to record them.

    • handgunnar

      Read the story again, Al . It reads.... "the officer arrested Gilk, put him in handcuffs, and charged him with violating Massachusetts’ wiretap law, disturbing the peace, and aiding in the escape of a prisoner! "

    • Blessings

      You are being Video and Audio taped for your protection and mine is the first comment out of a Cops mouth when you get pulled over!

  • ARMYOF69

    Our police state is alive and well. We give them a gun, a badge, uniform, great salaries, overtime, early retirement, incredible healthcare, and beautiful pensions........we pay for all that, and...they give us nothing but SPIT ON US.

  • R.Young

    Just how could they do this that is the most UnAmerican thing they have done to date, no one has the right to question the authority of the POLICE?

    • Ben Gardner

      I am going to give you the benefit of the doubt and labor under the assumption that you are being sarcastic with that mindless remark.

    • R.Young

      SARCASTIC and I have a Smarth Mouth Attitude, it's a Natural Defense against DRAMA,BULLCrap and STUPIDITY!

    • handgunnar

      Easy, Ben. It's obvious that he's being sarcastic.

  • Jody

    Leave it to Illnois to abridge freedom of speech.

  • Mark Matis

    LONG overdue. Yet this country's "Law Enforcement" will spit on this ruling, and NOBODY shall hold them accountable. The only good pig is a dead pig.

    • Blessings

      So, next time you need help, call a crack head.... God Bless all our Law Enforcement.. Would you lay down your life to save someome. Sounds like NOT!

    • ARMYOF69

      The cops certainly grew very yellow here in LA in the 90's riots. They left us the public to our own devizes , turned tail and scurried home.
      Brave my arse. I had my own guns at the ready, to protect myself and my wife.

    • handgunnar

      Completely true, ARMY. I was in L.A. during the Rodney King riots and the cops called in sick to protect their own homes.

    • Blessings

      That's very sad. Maybe the cops in LA need a new job. I don't know one police officer to cut and run when it's time to protect the innocent ...

  • Benton Bain

    This then should also apply to the TSA goons at the airports.

    • DrSique

      Nope, the "TSA Goons" just informed Congress that they have no authority over them. Should be funny when said Congress defunds said TSA. The real question is why would any honest police officer have a problem with someone recording him while he is doing his job properly? If he is doing nothing wrong, it will actually protect him from false accusations.

    • har82

      Very true. But that is not ,, what a socialist tyranny wants.. It wants - total - submission of its citizens. NOTHING LESS.
      And who are you ,, to question thier authority ??. Think about that for a minute ok. And any ,,, reasonable free man, woman , or child, will come to a correct conclusion.
      If ,,, you're not educated in today's schools that is lol.
      We are now in this socialist society. So guard well your freedoms. For tomorrow, you will see them missing.

    • handgunnar


  • fliteking


  • vet

    It's about time.This evidence should be aloud in court to sue the officer and the department for the abuse of power that they half been getting away with for yrs.

    • Blessings

      Just remember Cops video and audio record you as well for their own safety. The number one most dangerous thing for a Cop to do is pull a car over. You walk in their shoes for one shift wearing a bullseye on your back and then I'm sure your comment would change.

    • handgunnar

      No one was ever compelled to take a job as a police officer. Granted, it can be a difficult job and, as such, it's certainly not for everyone. That being said, only a fool doesn't realize going into it that he is, properly, going to be held to a high standard of conduct. If their actions can't stand the scrutiny of their bosses, (and that means the taxpaying public), then they need to find a less stressful profession. I have 12 cop friends and not a damn one of 'em has a problem with being recorded. Of course, they're not immature, badge-heavy drugstore commandos, either.

    • Blessings

      I wasn't refuting Law Enforcement being taped. I was simply stating that it goes both ways. Too many people have said they were a abused by Police when it's just BS. The Police need protection as wrll.. There are some Cops that shouldn't be Cops, but that said, there's more scum out there to lie to just get out of an illegal act.

    • handgunnar

      Then there would seem to be no basis for attempting to criminalize video recording, so I'm not certain that we have a dispute.

    • har82

      And those types handgunner, are the ones I still respect. I have known a few of them myself. :)
      Respect , is either earned , or lost , upon first contact.

    • handgunnar

      I think that the "stomping" mentality is far too prevalent in an awful lot of police departments.

      Remember this story from 1999?

      A Federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit by a man who was barred from the New London police force because he scored too high on an intelligence test.

      In a ruling made public on Tuesday, Judge Peter C. Dorsey of the United States District Court in New Haven agreed that the plaintiff, Robert Jordan, was denied an opportunity to interview for a police job because of his HIGH TEST SCORES. But he said that that did not mean Mr. Jordan was a victim of discrimination.

      Judge Dorsey ruled that Mr. Jordan was not denied equal protection because the city of New London applied the same standard to everyone: anyone who SCORED TOO HIGH was rejected.

      Mr. Jordan, a 49-year-old college graduate, took an exam to join the New London police, in Connecticut, in 1996 and scored 33 points, the equivalent of an IQ of 125.

      But New London police interviewed only candidates who scored 20 to 27, on the theory that those who scored too high could get bored with police work and leave soon after undergoing costly training.

      Mr. Jordan, who has a bachelor's degree in literature and is an officer with the State Department of Corrections, said he was considering an appeal. ''I was eliminated on the basis of my intellectual makeup,'' he said. ''It's the same as discrimination on the basis of gender or religion or race.''

    • har82

      No ,,, it wouldn't . But then again, I don't take it for granted that a car is full of innocent people either lol.

      I do respect that someone ,, has to do the job. And they know,, what they get into on a daily basis ( or should ). But there are also a lot of bad cops out there too. I have seen it - first hand - .