Less than two days after a Miami Beach police officer shined his flashlight into my camera lens in an attempt to thwart me from video recording them making an arrest, a department spokesman said his behavior was “immature” and that he would be dealt with appropriately, if he hasn’t already been dealt with by his superior officer.
The officer, who still remains unidentified, was the only cop out of a group making an arrest who decided to resort to intimidation tactics to prevent from being recorded – which is direct violation of the photo policy that the Miami Beach Police Department introduced in the wake of the 2011 incident when they confiscated cameras from witnesses and reporters after shooting an unarmed man to death.
“Pointing the light just to be annoying to the reporter, there’s no excuse for that,” said Sgt. Bobby Hernandez, the department’s public information officer, in the interview with Photography is Not a Crime correspondent Jeff Gray aka HONORYOUROATH, which you can hear in the video above.
“And trust me, we are going to find out who that officer is and we’re going to deal with him if he wasn’t dealt with. There’s no need for that. What did he resolve by doing that? Other than being a little immature in my opinion.”
The fact that the cop refused to provide me his name when I asked him was also a violation of departmental policy
“He should have given you his name and if he didn’t, you should have requested a supervisor to come provide that for you,” Hernanez said.
Hernandez explained that the department has made great efforts to educate officers about the rights of citizens to record them in public since the 2011 incident in which 22-year-old Raymond Herisse was shot to death, an incident that still remains “under investigation.”
In fact, the department’s policy is the most thorough out of any South Florida police agency, thanks to the National Press Photographers Association, which assisted them in drafting it.
But a policy is only worth the paper it is drafted on if the officers are not following it.
Jonathan Piccolo, who sits on the board of directors of the ACLU of Florida said he was on South Beach Saturday night documenting arrests with his camera and was harassed by Miami Beach police officers.
One officer shined his flashlight at my camera every time I lifted it up to shoot. I just left my camera trained on the officers until he got tired of holding up his flashlight and then took the pics. Also, they were pretty keen on taking my photo as if to mock me (they did this last year as well). One officer came over and stood behind me and said nothing. I was wearing an ACLU shirt that said “legal observer” on it so perhaps they wanted to read what it said.
So now I’ll be meeting with the ACLU next week to see how we can prevent this from happening in the future.
From Gray’s interview with Hernandez:
“I know after the 2011 incident when this all came to light, the officers just did not know, they see a channel 10 reporter and had his camera taken away just because he was videotaping a crime scene,” Hernandez said.
“Well, that kind of put it into perspective and we said we got to come up with a policy because a lot of (officers) just don’t know what the do’s and don’t's are of dealing with media and cameras and the public.
“It’s pretty much, we’ve had to explain it to them, ‘act like they’re there all the time’ because now with cell phones and iPads, you’re always being videotaped. And there’s nothing wrong with that, they’re just videotaping you doing your job.”
Hernandez also brought up the March incident in which PINAC reader Taylor Hardy was aggressively confronted by an irate Miami-Dade paramedic because he was video recording the landing of a helicopter.
The story, which was first published on PINAC, ended up making the rounds in all the local television stations and apparently all the public information offices of local agencies.
“Everybody was sending it to everybody, this is how not to handle the media,” Hernandez said.
And he told Gray he was relieved to learn that the officers who harassed Miami Herald reporter Marc Caputo because he was video recording them making arresting a group of men turned out to be federal marshals instead of Miami Beach police officers as you can see in the second video in this story.
Hernandez also suggested that I may have instigated the incident by not explaining myself, but I tend to keep quiet as to not distract them. I make it obvious that I am recording and they are welcome to come up and talk to me if they wish.
Or they can just shine their lights at me and order me away under threat of arrest, which is usually the case.
Gray, who spent 19 years as a truck driver and has received no formal journalistic education, is proving to be the epitome of the modern-day citizen journalist, demanding accountability better than the mainstream media does.
The video might be long at 14 minutes, but it’s worth a listen in order to learn how to do the same with other police departments in the future.
Hernandez is also the epitome of a modern-day public information officer because he clearly understands that the right to record includes all citizens, not just those working for the corporate media.
A complete contrast from our friend, Nancy Perez, the public information officer of the Miami-Dade Police Department who singled me out from a horde of corporate journalists covering the Occupy Miami eviction last year and arrested me, later telling my attorney that blogging is what kids do.
UPDATE: Jonathan Piccolo, the ACLU board member who said he was harassed for taking photos, sent in the following two photos showing just that.
He believes the officer was from the Miami Beach Police Department but it is difficult to tell from the photo because he is wearing a black t-shirt, meaning he could be from another local police agency.
UPDATE II: Piccolo just sent the following photo, which is a zoomed-in crop of the previous photo and it looks like this officer is definitely from the Miami Beach Police Department, meaning he should have been trained not to harass or thwart photographers.