Dallas police officials released a one page, right-to-record directive to officers last week which is now raising eyebrows for its lack of substance.
Last October, high ranking officials from the Dallas Police Department and its respective police association sat down with police accountability activists and members of the mainstream press at a “Right to Photograph and Record in Public” event, hosted by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA). According to Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the NPPA, Dallas police representatives appeared to have positive attitudes toward protecting citizens right to record in public and even promised to add a directive for officers in their policy manual.
However, now that the directive and its corresponding draft have been released, it appears that someone in the Dallas Police Department kept their promise, but looks to have been overruled by city attorneys, community leaders and police associations.
Local Dallas photographer and activist Avi Adelman, who has been the target of Dallas police harassment, uncovered an earlier draft of the directive through a public records request, which shows a drastically improved version.
The four page draft contained several additional subsections that were omitted in the final version, including officer responsibilities, supervisor responsibilities, special circumstances and specific seizing instructions. The information contained within the draft was surprisingly thorough and concise and would undoubtedly bring upon more officer responsibility.
For example, the draft included specific actions that were considered prohibited if an officer discovered a bystander photographing police activity.
331.05 Officer Responsibilities
A. Upon discovery that a bystander is observing, photographing, or videio/audio recording the conduct of police activity:
1. DO NOT impede or prevent the bystander’s ability to continue doing so based solely on the discovery of his/her presence. (including, but not limited to, deliberately shining a flashlight into a camera lens to prevent recording)
2. DO NOT seize or otherwise demand to take possession of any camera or video/audio recording device the bystander may possess based solely on the discovery of his/her presence.
3. DO NOT demand to review, manipulate, or erase any images or video/audio recording captured by the bystander based solely on the discovery of his/her presence.
4. For Investigative purposes, be mindful of the potential that the bystander may witness, or capture images/video/audio of events considered at some later time to be material evidence.
The initial draft continued to outline the specific restrictions set forth by law which restricts law enforcement from seizing any property not used to commit a criminal act. The proposed policy would give police accountability activists, main stream press, or anyone who finds themselves being harassed for filming the police the teeth to bring discipline against the cops who violate policy.
Obviously, city attorneys and police associations didn’t wan’t a clearly established set of self-imposed rules. Instead, they prefer vague guidelines in order to protect against potential lawsuits and liabilities of the “bad apples.”
Adelman didn’t mince words in a statement to the Dallas Morning New:
“They chickened out,” Adelman said of the Police Department. “There is no guidance, so the cops will make it up as they go along.”
Dallas authorities are not known for being champions of the First Amendment. In fact, they appear to be champions of squashing free speech as often as they have the chance. The Dallas Police Association president, Ron Pinkston, has been very outspoken against those who wish to hold his brothers in blue accountable. In fact, last year he stated he wants citizens to cease filming police officers entirely as he worries someone will get hurt.
“It’s creating a major officer safety issue,” he said. “We don’t know who it is pulling behind us. We don’t know they’re there to videotape, they might be part of… if that guy has has just done a kidnapping they could be part of the kidnapping. You don’t know.”
Pinkston’s organization also wrote the anti cop watching bill, trotted out by Dallas Rep Jason Villalba, who later pulled it after an international public backlash. So, it really comes as no surprise that the original draft of the right-to-photograph directive was completely dismantled.
“You can’t discipline an officer without a policy,” Osterreicher says. “Based on this policy I don’t see where, no matter what an officer does, that there would be any discipline at all that would stick.”
Read the draft policy below
[scribd-doc doc=”266438390″ key=”brett3sanders” ]
Read the final version below
[scribd-doc doc=”266437701″ key=”brett3sanders” ]