Illinois legislators don’t want you to see what their cops are up to. On December 2nd, 2014 they quietly passed legislation that makes it a felony to record police interactions with citizens. The law attempts to limit this to when there is a reasonable expectation of privacy by officers, but fails to define what that means. That means lot of felony charges for simply documenting police activities. Illinois laws aside, Americans have a right to record interactions with law enforcement, and recently several officers have been recorded engaging in an abusive and threatening manner.
A video of Darren Wilson surfaced after the shooting of Michael Brown. The 15-second video shows Wilson telling a citizen “If you wanna take a picture of me one more time, I’m gonna lock your ass up.” When the individual asks if he has the right to record, Wilson tells him “no you don’t”. Wilson then grabs the phone and stops the recording in spite of the fact that there is no law in Ferguson Missouri prohibiting citizens from recording officer interactions.
The chokehold that resulted in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island this summer was also recorded. One recording clearly shows that a chokehold was used on Mr. Garner in spite of the fact that New York Police are prohibited from using the chokehold. In the video, Garner can be heard telling the officers “I can’t breathe” several times. The other recording captured the aftermath, clearly showing that officers and EMTs failed to provide life saving care to Mr. Garner.
In Texas, there were a total of 706 excessive force complaints in the past six years. Internal Affairs sustained just 15 of the 706 complaints. Guess what all 15 of those complaints had in common? Each was video recorded. This is just one example of how rarely excessive force complaints are sustained without video evidence. The problem is that it is a citizen’s word against the word of a police officer and the presumption is always that the police officer is telling the truth.
In a recent case near Tacoma Washington, a City of Fife police officer reported that he had initiated a traffic stop which led to a search incident to arrest. The individual was then booked for felony possession of drugs when the officer found an illegal substance. The defendant claimed that she was just sitting in her car in a hotel parking lot when the officer unlawfully ordered her from the vehicle and searched her in violation of her constitutional rights. Hotel surveillance video was later obtained by her Tacoma defense attorney which clearly showed that she was telling the truth. The officer was fired and charges were dismissed, but only after the video surfaced.
All encounters with law enforcement should be recorded. Until all police are required to wear body cameras, citizens should continue to document police interactions whenever possible. It may be the only way an abusive or dishonest cop will ever be held accountable. On the issue of whether Illinois should make recording officers a felony, “Only a government that lives like cockroaches in the darkness would pass a law criminalizing the act of turning on the light.” (The Free Thought Project).