There has been a lot of discussion lately about the issue of citizens taping police officers who are on-duty and in public. For example, in March, Anthony Graber videotaped an encounter with a Maryland State Trooper in which Graber received a speeding ticket. A week later, he uploaded the video to YouTube. In April, Graber was charged with violating Maryland’s wiretapping laws because he filmed the public encounter with a police officer on the job. He could have been jailed for up to 16 years. In September, a judge dismissed the wiretapping charges against Graber (but he still faces traffic charges).
USA Today takes a look at the issue and focuses on videos recorded by Diop Kamau — a former police officer — after his father had a bad traffic stop encounter with California police.
Some of the controversial videos made using hidden microphones and cameras found their way to network and cable television, exposing police to deserved criticism. Mostly, the videos helped launch a new generation of public accountability for local law enforcement. […]
Starting with the grainy images first broadcast by Kamau and other pioneer citizen watchdogs — notably the 1991 beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, shot by a nearby resident— the public surveillance of cops has exploded to potentially include anyone with a cellphone.
The videos are so ubiquitous that analysts and police debate whether they are serving the public interest — or undermining public trust in law enforcement and even putting officers’ lives in jeopardy. The videos are subjecting officers’ actions in public places to new scrutiny and changing the way accusations against cops play out in court. In some communities, police are fighting back by enforcing laws that limit such recordings. Other departments are seeking new training for officers to prepare for the ever-present surveillance on the street. […]
Some police believe videotaping officers poses broad risks that reach beyond Internet embarrassments: It could cause officers to hesitate in life-threatening situations.
“The proliferation of cheap video equipment is presenting a whole new dynamic for law enforcement,” says Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union. “It has had a chilling effect on some officers who are now afraid to act for fear of retribution by video. This has become a serious safety issue. I’m afraid something terrible will happen.”