The reason police departments use designated officers to deal with the media is that these officers are usually the ones less likely to stick their foot in their mouth.
But that is not the case with the Portland police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz, who is not only clueless about Constitutional law, he is clueless about his own department’s policy on dealing with citizens who videotape officers in public.
Portland police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz said he believes the public doesn’t have a right to record officers’ conversations – on or off the job – without their consent.
“Just because somebody is a police officer doesn’t mean they give up their rights,” Schmautz said.
The story comes to us from The Oregonian, where reporter Aimee Green does an excellent job breaking down the police hogwash over an incident in which they harassed civilian Mike Tabor – who was standing in plain view several feet from them – when he filmed them shaking down a couple of drug suspects.
In the video, Portland officers Dane Reister and Nicholas Ragona end up not arresting the suspects, but then can bee seen walking up to Tabor and confiscating his video camera.
This hasn’t been the only such issue in Oregon.
Last month, Beaverton police arrested a 27-year-old Aloha man on accusations that he illegally recorded an officer arresting another man at a bowling alley. Ho Xent Vang recorded the encounter on his cell phone, and Beaverton police say the audio part of the recording violated state law because the officer didn’t give his consent.
In both cases, police were citing ORS 165.540, which makes it generally illegal to tape-record a conversation without first obtaining permission except in cases where a person wouldn’t reasonably expect privacy, such as at a public meeting or sporting event.
First of all, if a police officer is on duty, then he has no expectation of privacy, unless he is sitting on the toilet or something to that effect, contrary to what Portland police spokesman Sgt.Brian Schmautz said.
It’s not much different than when civilians go to work and have no say when their employer monitors their actions and words through video cameras and phone lines.
Thankfully, Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office declined to prosecute Tabor. In fact, most cases of videographers getting arrested for “illegally” recording police in public have had their cases dropped.
But Tabor wasn’t just satisfied having his charges dropped. He wants the Portland Police Bureau to draft a new policy – similar to the policy Seattle police launched earlier this year – that would remind officers that photographers and videographers have the right to document them in public.
The problem is, the Portland Police Bureau already have such a policy in place that is not even 20 years old, even though nobody on the force seems to have a clue about it.
In 1991, then-police chief Tom Potter issued a training bulletin stating that the public had the right to record video and audio of police arresting suspects in a public place. Woboril, Schmautz and Police Chief Rosie Sizer weren’t aware of the bulletin, but Tabor’s attorney, Haile, dug up it up in his research.
Haile said he wants the bureau to specify that police stops — not just arrests — can be recorded. He also wants the policy put in the bureau’s policy and procedures manual, so it won’t be forgotten.
Haile noted that Potter’s bulletin was issued shortly after Rodney King, a black man who was stopped for speeding, was videotaped by a bystander being beaten by four Los Angeles police officers. The videotape spurred widespread discussion about police brutality.
Let’s hope it doesn’t take another vicious beating to spark discussion on an issue that is so fundamentally Constitutional, it should already be set in stone.