Are Cameras The New Guns?

You remember that I posted the disturbing story of Anthony John Graber pulled over for speeding on his motorcycle, then arrested 10 days later for posting on YouTube the video of his own traffic stop he recorded on his helmet mounted camera. Police Officers in most cases will consider your camera as a gun pointed at them…and will file criminal charges against you if you film them without their consent. This article was transmitted to me by Freedom Fighter “Rogue” and was written by Wendy McElroy, author of several books and maintaining the blog at You should all read the following and take notice.

“In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer. Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists. The legal justification for arresting the “shooter” rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where “no expectation of privacy exists” (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.

Massachusetts attorney June Jensen represented Simon Glik who was arrested for such a recording. She explained, “[T]he statute has been misconstrued by Boston police. You could go to the Boston Common and snap pictures and record if you want.” Legal scholar and professor Jonathan Turley agrees, “The police are basing this claim on a ridiculous reading of the two-party consent surveillance law – requiring all parties to consent to being taped. I have written in the area of surveillance law and can say that this is utter nonsense.”

The courts, however, disagree. A few weeks ago, an Illinois judge rejected a motion to dismiss an eavesdropping charge against Christopher Drew, who recorded his own arrest for selling one-dollar artwork on the streets of Chicago. Although the misdemeanor charges of not having a peddler’s license and peddling in a prohibited area were dropped, Drew is being prosecuted for illegal recording, a Class I felony punishable by 4 to 15 years in prison.

In 2001, when Michael Hyde was arrested for criminally violating the state’s electronic surveillance law – aka recording a police encounter – the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld his conviction 4-2. In dissent, Chief Justice Margaret Marshall stated, “Citizens have a particularly important role to play when the official conduct at issue is that of the police. Their role cannot be performed if citizens must fear criminal reprisals….” (Note: In some states it is the audio alone that makes the recording illegal.)

The selection of “shooters” targeted for prosecution do, indeed, suggest a pattern of either reprisal or an attempt to intimidate. Glik captured a police action on his cellphone to document what he considered to be excessive force. He was not only arrested, his phone was also seized. On his website Drew wrote, “Myself and three other artists who documented my actions tried for two months to get the police to arrest me for selling art downtown so we could test the Chicago peddlers license law. The police hesitated for two months because they knew it would mean a federal court case. With this felony charge they are trying to avoid this test and ruin me financially and stain my credibility.”

Hyde used his recording to file a harassment complaint against the police. After doing so, he was criminally charged. In short, recordings that are flattering to the police – an officer kissing a baby or rescuing a dog – will almost certainly not result in prosecution even if they are done without all-party consent. The only people who seem prone to prosecution are those who embarrass or confront the police, or who somehow challenge the law. If true, then the prosecutions are a form of social control to discourage criticism of the police or simple dissent. A recent arrest in Maryland is both typical and disturbing. On March 5, 24-year-old Anthony John Graber III’s motorcycle was pulled over for speeding. He is currently facing criminal charges for a video he recorded on his helmet-mounted camera during the traffic stop.

The case is disturbing because:
1) Graber was not arrested immediately. Ten days after the encounter, he posted some of he material to YouTube, and it embarrassed Trooper J. D. Uhler. The trooper, who was in plainclothes and an unmarked car, jumped out waving a gun and screaming. Only later did Uhler identify himself as a police officer. When the YouTube video was discovered the police got a warrant against Graber, searched his parents’ house (where he presumably lives), seized equipment, and charged him with a violation of wiretapping law.
2) Baltimore criminal defense attorney Steven D. Silverman said he had never heard of the Maryland wiretap law being used in this manner. In other words, Maryland has joined the expanding trend of criminalizing the act of recording police abuse. Silverman surmises, “It’s more [about] ‘contempt of cop’ than the violation of the wiretapping law.”
3) Police spokesman Gregory M. Shipley is defending the pursuit of charges against Graber, denying that it is “some capricious retribution” and citing as justification the particularly egregious nature of Graber’s traffic offenses. Oddly, however, the offenses were not so egregious as to cause his arrest before the video appeared.
Almost without exception, police officials have staunchly supported the arresting officers. This argues strongly against the idea that some rogue officers are overreacting or that a few cops have something to hide. “Arrest those who record the police” appears to be official policy, and it’s backed by the courts.
Carlos Miller at the Photography Is Not A Crime website offers an explanation: “For the second time in less than a month, a police officer was convicted from evidence obtained from a videotape. The first officer to be convicted was New York City Police Officer Patrick Pogan, who would never have stood trial had it not been for a video posted on Youtube showing him body slamming a bicyclist before charging him with assault on an officer. The second officer to be convicted was Ottawa Hills (Ohio) Police Officer Thomas White, who shot a motorcyclist in the back after a traffic stop, permanently paralyzing the 24-year-old man.”

When the police act as though cameras were the equivalent of guns pointed at them, there is a sense in which they are correct. Cameras have become the most effective weapon that ordinary people have to protect against and to expose police abuse. And the police want it to stop. Happily, even as the practice of arresting “shooters” expands, there are signs of effective backlash. At least one Pennsylvania jurisdiction has reaffirmed the right to video in public places. As part of a settlement with ACLU attorneys who represented an arrested “shooter,” the police in Spring City and East Vincent Township adopted a written policy allowing the recording of on-duty policemen. As journalist Radley Balko declares, “State legislatures should consider passing laws explicitly making it legal to record on-duty law enforcement officials.”

21 Responses to “Are Cameras The New Guns?”

  1. 1 Rick Lossner Jun 8th, 2010 at 6:52 am

    This took me down an interesting path this morning. I videotape and take pics all the time… ( not of police ) … Started reading this with a ‘we have the right’ mentality…

    I found myself taken from one link to another… in some cases, the videos were a ‘good thing’… showed wrong doing. HOWEVER, in many ( most ? ) cases of this stuff on the ‘net… the videotapers are literally BAITING the officers!!!!#$%#%

    Police Officer .. “move along please “.. “put that away please ” .. and the person with the video recorder soon begins to spout ” this is free country ” .. ” I’m not doing anything wrong!!!” ….” you can’t tell me to do that !!!”, etc, etc, etc..

    Within seconds or minutes, an officer has become agitated, baited, no idea they are being taped, and now.. they are f*cked..

    Thanks for enlightening me ……..

  2. 2 Tim Jun 8th, 2010 at 7:06 am

    I do agree with Rick some do bait the person being videoed, Those should have to answer for their provoking. On that I agree. In Florida where Rogue, Cyril and I live there has been a scary trend of police officers who should not be on the job. News reports of child predators, faking college courses to get extra pay, shooting at husbands, the list goes on. I do believe that you are innocent until PROVEN guilty and do believe the TV news does slant their stories, but there just has been too many of then to ignore. We do have many good cops but, the good ones do not seam to want to stop or remove the bad ones anymore. That said If we as citizens cannot film what we believe s inappropriate behavior, what protection do we have from over zealous officers. Many of us are old enough to remember the days where the only thing we did was ride our bike through town and ended up being harassed and jailed on a trumped up charge. I hate to see those days back again. hate to sound paranoid but these types of cases and laws scare the crap out of me.

  3. 3 Dave Blevins Jun 8th, 2010 at 7:51 am

    This is a very bad sign. I cannot imagine how a judge, lawyer, or any sane person could think it unfair or illegal to film a public official during their respective job. It is no different than video cameras watching employees doing their jobs as cashiers, stockroom staff, loading dock workers, etc, every day.
    As public employees are paid with tax dollars, I think citizens have a right to know how our police, lawmakers, senators, judges, and so on, behave while on the job. I also think anyone afraid to be filmed during the execution of their job (no matter what it may be)is afraid of being exposed as unqualified. In this case, perhaps guilty of breaking the law!
    I know cops have a tough job, but if you can’t hack it, find other employment. We don’t need firemen who are afraid of ladders, or soldiers who are afraid of rifles, or EMTs afraid of needles, so why have chickenshit cops? Perhaps because many cops are completely ignorant of the law, so they realize they could be guilty of many crimes daily… I think filming of police while on duty should be manditory.

  4. 4 A 1 cycles Jun 8th, 2010 at 8:15 am

    no voice issues, its all about the vocal track, if that man on the bike didnt have voice on you tube, nothing he could be charged with..i think its all bullshit.. be responsible in your the right thing, know the laws you are trying to uphold.

  5. 5 Drummer Dave Jun 8th, 2010 at 8:35 am

    This seems ludicrious to me. The police can tape you on thier dash cam without your consent right!
    So unless they are doing something wrong themselves I cant imagine why a video tape of an officer would be a problem? I too have been seeing a rash of police officers in Va. here getting charged with everything from indecent liberties to robbery and other charges..

    This is just designed to keep another Rodney King video from hitting the street

  6. 6 Scott Jun 8th, 2010 at 9:04 am

    This is just another example in the trend towards a rogue government in the USA. Any argument against the use of in car mounted cams (recording both audio and video) would be met with it is for the officers protection. Even in my small town the police use wireless cams fastened to their uniforms. Either of which would be used as evidence in prosecuting. Over the last 15 years the police have been pushing towards operating under a cloak of secrecy. It started when Nextel worked out deals to put up towers on city property in exchange for service to the police departments. This allowed for secret communications between officers.

    A typical double standard used against the citizens. It is ok for big brother to watch and listen to your every move. Don’t you dare try to use their tactics against them.

  7. 7 Sid Alerson Jun 8th, 2010 at 10:26 am

    And this is what is called “anarchy”. It is not freedom. How in a normal democratic society people can cope with this police abuse? The power methods are illegal now and people can only use cameras. But that damned cops want to stop that, because they want to what they want!

  8. 8 Ken Glenn (Rat Judge) Jun 8th, 2010 at 10:43 am

    This is an outrage!! The police can use redlight cams, dash cams and cameras on every street corners in the city and that is OK. If a private citizen uses one of the few tools he has to protect from an abusive officer, that’s a crime? We are loosing our rights bit by bit every day and it is time it is put to a stop.

  9. 9 cwglide Jun 8th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Let me understand this. Law enforcement can video record while on duty a motorcycle event such as a poker run, and or rally what have you. Yet it is illegal in some states for the public to video record a police officer (salary paid for by tax payers). This is outrages!!,, I had no idea this was going on,,,but not surprizing actually. Just goes to show you we are loosing our rights! Just like where law enforcement has passed judgement labeled every motorcycle club with a patch a Gang! That is like saying all law enforcement personell are corrupt. The bottom line I think are decisions of passing such laws that is against our Bill of Rights, and our Constitution without accountablility will just continue, and continue. Then it cost the governemnt alot more later in law suits, not to mention messing up peoples lives. Example Bay Area counties had shelled out approx $900,000.00 to the HA in law suits. Seems to me there should be some sort of validation before changing laws are adding them. Its the smart thing to do and the right thing!

  10. 10 markg Jun 8th, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Based on their argument about not recording without consent, they may want to rethink that position. This means that TV crews cannot film without every person’s consent. After all, they broadcast crimes live as often as possible. Countless traffic cameras and surveillance cameras are running on all the streets and a lot of the buildings. Nobody asked for permission of the the people shown on these cameras to be videoed. Seems like there are a lot of prosecutable cases that are being ignored.

    The police will use the term “officer safety,” they were in “fear for their lives” if their faces are revealed. This is a standard mantra that is taught in every police briefing. Yet, these same people who are so afraid of being videoed are on tape every day in the performance of their duties. Every time these officers walk into a building, drive through intersections, ignore traffic laws, and a host of other things their pictures, video, and voice are being recorded. Their argument for “officer safety” and “fear for their life” is a joke.

    The officer in the video had all the earmarks of a carjacking, except in this case it was a motorcycle. Gun out, abusiveness, an d no identification. There are a number of trained individuals that would have considered this behavior to be a deadly assault and taken steps to kill the attacker. The cop was lucky it did not happen.

    The comment that I have heard from way too many cops in the last couple of years, “We can do whatever we want, we’re cops.” This statement alone, along with what has happened to the poor guy running his video camera should be a cause for concern. Hopefully there will be some major court cases putting a stop to this type of abuse.

  11. 11 gustian Jun 9th, 2010 at 1:18 am

    RE : markg

    “We can do whatever we want, we’re cops.”

    That indeed is a dangerous behavior of (I hope) some individuals.
    I can tell you that over here (Belgium), with that mentality, as a cop, you soon end up in court yourself. And be damn sure that the tape will be used against that cop if he did somthing wrong !

    A few months ago, two cops beeing filmed (in full uniform) both drunk , were exposed on Utube.
    The tape is used against them, and they both were serious punished. (financialy and restricted duty conditions)

    As a police-officer myself (now for almost 36 years) I only can say to my fellow officers, walk the straigt line yourself, so it doesn’t matter if you’re videotaped.

    Peace Gustian

  12. 12 cyclereckr Jun 9th, 2010 at 5:40 am

    Storm troopers !

  13. 13 bigalyts Jun 9th, 2010 at 12:12 pm


  14. 14 MDK Jun 10th, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Another fine example of our broke guvment allowing subpar customer service and not wanting to be held accountable for their shortcomings. We should all band together and have a tea party in D.C.!

  15. 15 Hugh Jun 11th, 2010 at 8:59 am

    I could not even try to make scene of this foolishness. First I dont agree with having to tell a police officer he or she is being recorded. I thought that was the whole point of having a hidden camera. So what happens if you have a hidden camera on your car for a burglar and for some reason you get pulled over by a crazy cap that wants to move there weight around and they give you a hard tiime. Do you need to tell them they are being recored. Or what if you tell them they are being recored after they abuse you. What happens then?
    I just dont understand!

  16. 16 burnout Jun 11th, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Most confusing, I wonder who chooses which video ‘tape’ is kept and which is erased from Traffic intersections and recordings in-car (police car)? I try to remember I am being filmed a LOT, lot of nose-picking goin on! peace

  17. 17 Randy Jun 14th, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    I am glad to live in Canada!

  18. 18 JP@MyEvilTwinChoppers Jun 14th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    You can video tape me as I work if you want to…… but then again,…… I have nothing to hide…

  19. 19 Walt Lumpkin Jun 15th, 2010 at 8:30 am

    These consent laws help protect politicians and public officials from being outed when conducting nefarious and/or illegal deeds. Obviously you are not going to ask for nor expect to receive permission to record someone committing a crime.

    markg makes a good point about surveilance and traffic camers, dash cameras and news cameras. I’m certainly no fan of the ACLU but I would think these laws would be a good target for them. If it’s good for the goose it surely is good for the gander.

    There can be no jusification for such laws in public places. I am surprised any court above a local one would even consider upholding such a repressive law as there can be no expectation of privacy when in public, neither speech nor visual.

    While I support the men and women in law enforcement I have also known a lot of them. Most of them are good people but some have a seige mentality and a few of them should never have been issued a weapon.

  20. 20 maryland criminal lawyer Jun 24th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    I think cameras have more of an affect then guns. It’s sometimes irritating to see cops abuse their power, but we also have to take into consideration they’re doing this all for the betterment of our country.

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