ACLU Sues Philly For Citizens’ Right to Film Cops

January 24th, 2013 by admin

If the head of a large city’s police department issues a memo to both his officers and the people they protect, you would think the memo’s contents would be adhered to. Not so in the case of Philadelphians right to video-record police officers. Despite a memo issued in 2011 by Commissioner Charles Ramsey, cops in Philly continued to arrest people for recording them. And now, the ACLU is involved.

There seemed to be some confusion prior to 2011. More and more people were walking around with video cameras on their phones and local cops weren’t sure how to respond, but they knew they didn’t like it. So, they arrested people. They effectively made it against the law to record police by punishing those who did with arrest, criminal charges of disorderly conduct, and/or the confiscation of the recording devices and the deletion of the footage.

The Daily News ran a story highlighting several of the arrests and cellphone damaging by Philly police. In most cases, the amateur videographers were trying to document arrests they saw as particularly violent when they themselves became the targets of police.

But Commissioner Ramsey cleared things up with his 2011 memo, directed at his officers. He said that the citizens of Philly do have a right to record officers, from a safe distance and as long as it didn’t interfere with police work. That should have settled it.

filmingwomancopBut, according to a lawsuit filed in federal court by the ACLU, it didn’t. Philly cops continued to execute arrests against people who dared to record them.

“Clearly there’s a pattern of Philadelphia police trying to discourage people from watching what they do by arresting them and charging them with crimes,” said ACLU staff attorney Mary Catherine Roper. “We’re just not sure the message got through.”

The ACLU lawsuit alleges the officers have violated the people’s First Amendment rights in executing arrests for no real law violation. Roper and her organization hope the suit will prompt the courts of Pennsylvania to settle once and for all that the people have a right to record police in public. She said she also hopes it will prompt more training within the Philadelphia police department.

If you are arrested for filming police, you need the help of a local defense lawyer. Whether you’re charged with disorderly conduct or some other related charge, we may be able to help.