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Burriss on Media: Photographing Police

Dr. Larry Burriss

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  The on-going “Occupy” protests, and the protests and demonstrations at the NATO summit in Chicago this week, are once again highlighting the issue of citizens photographing police activities in public places. And citizens have received support from an unlikely source: the United States Department of Justice.

The department has written a letter critical of police in Baltimore who seized a cell phone a citizen was using to record a woman being arrested. The police deleted those scenes, as well as more than 20 other videos of the man’s 6-year-old son playing soccer and football.

The letter says the right to record police activities in public is consistent with American ideas of liberty, promotes accountability of government officials, and can serve to instill confidence in police officers. After all, if police officers are following procedures, video will serve to verify that fact. And if they aren’t following procedures…well the public certainly needs to know that.

What also needs to be noted here is that no-one is advocating actions that interfere with police activities. Indeed, media guidelines for the NATO summit carefully point out that reporters, and by extension, ordinary citizens, should not obstruct police activities. None of this, of course, prevents reporters from covering these activities.

Problems with police and media coverage of protests and demonstrations can be traced all the way back to the 1968 National Democratic Convention, which was also in Chicago. Following what was widely described as a “police riot,” both sides have tried to work out procedures that will allow complete coverage that does not interfere with legitimate police activities.

With the proliferation of cell phone cameras more and more policed activities will be recorded. Which can only befit both sides of the debate.

I’m Larry Burriss.