Madison Ruppert, Contributing Writer
Unfortunately, the Connecticut bill I recently reported on which supposedly helped protect our right to hold law enforcement accountable while conducting their official duties in public is actually a lot less powerful than I thought.
One of the most troubling aspects is that this bill does not exclude police.
What does this mean? Well, this means that a police officer could, in theory, turn off his or her recording equipment like the officer did before brutally beating an elderly man with dementia for no apparent reason, so long as they claim they were doing it to protect their privacy.
I’m actually going to have to go back and add an addendum linking to this article explaining that I no longer believe it should be used as so-called model legislation in other states.
The bill, which passed the Connecticut Senate with a 24-11 vote, was recently torn apart by Mike Riggs of Reason.
Riggs, along with Carlos Miller, did a great job of pointing out the complete lack of teeth in this bill thanks to Section 1(c).
This section provides exceptions for officers which essentially remove any and all protections afforded by the bill. In essence, this section makes the legislation meaningless and purely ceremonial.
Section 1(c) reads:
A peace officer shall not be liable under subsection (b) of this section if the peace officer had reasonable grounds to believe that the peace officer was interfering with the taking of such image in order to (1) lawfully enforce a criminal law of this state or a municipal ordinance, (2) protect the public safety, (3) preserve the integrity of a crime scene or criminal investigation, (4) safeguard the privacy interests of any person, including a victim of a crime, or (5) lawfully enforce court rules and policies of the Judicial Branch with respect to taking a photograph, videotaping or otherwise recording an image in facilities of the Judicial Branch.
The problem here is that they never explain what exactly reasonable grounds are for officers to believe that filming would somehow put endanger public safety, violate privacy, or conflict with any other laws.
Riggs points out, “How could recording a police officer beating the snot out of some poor perp jeopardize “public safety”? The bill doesn’t say. When it comes to protecting privacy, who counts among “any person”? The bill doesn’t say.”
This essentially allows police to claim they have reasonable grounds whenever they see fit.
As mentioned above, this bill could potentially allow some egregious abuses in the name of privacy.
Police could not only claim that they were protecting their own privacy by turning off recording equipment, they could potentially prevent bystanders from filming an arrest if they claim that it would violate the privacy of the suspect.
The Citizen Media Law Project points out even more problems:
Were this fact pattern under Connecticut jurisdiction, the cop could say that what he really meant was that he felt she was endangering the investigation somehow – a 1(c)(3) exception – or that somehow public safety was at risk, a 1(c)(2) exception. Does he have ‘reasonable grounds’ for such beliefs? Hard to say without further guidance, guidance that the bill does not give. But I can see cops winning such an argument, despite it seeming the wrong outcome.
The most glaring problem with the legislation is that it is incredibly vague. Another example comes in Section 1(c)(4) in which it says “or other person.”
“Other person” is not defined, and thanks to Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Title 1 Chapter 1 Section 1 of the U.S. Code, “the words ‘person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”
Thus, there is the possibility that this could be applied even more generally than one might immediately assume.
I truly wish this was powerful legislation protecting the people’s right to hold public servants accountable, but unfortunately it appears that is not the case.
I’d love to hear your opinion, take a look at your story tips, and even your original writing if you would like to get it published. Please email me at [email protected]
This article first appeared at End the Lie.