Milwaukee Cop Threatens to Arrest Citizen Video Recording for Loitering

In what hopefully doesn’t become a trend for police to stop citizens for video recording, a Milwaukee police officer threatened to arrested a citizen on loitering charges if he did not move from the public sidewalk where he had every right to be.

The 1:42 video was uploaded to Youtube last March but has only received 539 views as of this writing.

Two months after that incident, another man was handcuffed and cited for loitering while video recording Milwaukee cops.

About a month before the video was posted, a Baltimore police officer threatened a citizen with loitering charges if he did not keep moving from the sidewalk where he had been standing video recording a group of officers.

Because there are no laws stating that it is against the law to record cops, police throughout the country have resorted to all kinds of unrelated charges, including obstruction, interfering, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and even felony wiretapping or eavesdropping charges.

The Milwaukee Police Department is already under federal investigation for other civil rights violations.

Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn


About Carlos Miller

Carlos Miller is founder and publisher of Photography is Not a Crime, which began as a one-man blog in 2007 to document his trial after he was arrested for photographing police during a journalistic assignment. He is also the author of The Citizen Journalist's Photography Handbook, which can be purchased through Amazon.

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  • Calvin Velander

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. 98% of cops are uneducated, ignorant bullies and thugs who believe they are above accountability.

    • Difdi

      A cop is to the law as someone trained in basic first aid is to medicine. You wouldn’t get open heart surgery done by someone that unskilled, and yet we expect someone with that level of legal skill to be legal experts. The entire system operates on the theory that cops are incorruptible legal experts.

      This is why the unsupported testimony of a police officer can result in a conviction even if the officer is factually wrong about a law being broken, but the unsupported testimony of the accused is not considered compelling evidence even if factually correct..

  • Amanda Bruyninckx

    How much “law” are the citizens willing to put up with?

  • Paul Lebowski


  • Difster

    The guy should have said his purpose is to film interesting things. POOF no loitering.

  • Rob

    “Officer, my original purpose to be here was to exercise my 1st Amendment right to record anything I see from a public sidewalk, but now my purpose to be here is to exercise my 1st Amendment right to record YOU violating my civil right to record under Color Of Law Title 42 USC § 1983. A federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in a federal “pound me in the ass” prison. Now move along officer.”

    • Difdi

      42USC1983 allows you to sue for damages for violation of rights. 1983 is civil law, there are ZERO criminal penalties for it.

      The criminal law statute that prohibits color of law violations is 18USC242. Of course, unless the officer drew a weapon while violating your rights you’re talking about one year in prison, not ten.

      If you’re going to argue the law with police, you ought to be educated on what that law says. Any dumbass can misquote laws that don’t exist, as the police regularly prove.

      • Rob

        I stand corrected. In that case, a 1 finger salute, and the 1st Amendment should suffice. It doesn’t really matter what 42 USC 1983 says.

  • Difster

    Milwaukee loitering law. Clearly the man did not break it……

    Loitering or Prowling. Whoever does any of the following within the limits of the

    city of Milwaukee may be fined not more than five hundred dollars ($500) or upon

    default of payment thereof, shall be imprisoned in the house of correction of Milwaukee county for not more than 90 days.

    LOITERING. Loiters or prowls in a place, at a time, or in a manner not usual for

    law-abiding individuals under circumstances that warrant alarm for safety of persons

    or property in the vicinity. Among the circumstances which may be considered in

    determining whether such alarm is warranted is the fact that the actor takes flight

    upon appearance of a peace officer, refuses to identify himself, or manifestly endeavors to conceal himself or any object. Unless flight by the actor or other circumstances makes it impracticable, a peace officer shall prior to any arrest for an offense

    under this section, afford the actor an opportunity to dispel any alarm which would

    otherwise be warranted, by requesting him to identify himself and explain his presence and conduct. No person shall be convicted of an offense under this section if

    the peace officer did not comply with the preceding sentence, or if it appears at trial

    that the explanation given by the actor was true and, if believed by the peace officer

    at the time, would have dispelled the alarm.

    • steveo

      This is pretty much identical to the statute in FL. Going to church or handing out religious leaflets, political campaigning, or any protest and newsgathering are activites that are exempt from loitering in public areas. Tell them your name and I’m newsgathering or campaigning for Judge so and so. Watch them turn tail and run.

  • Phil

    I agree with Rob, he did have a reason for being there. It’s hard to think of those things when under pressure from someone who can make things really uncomfortable for your wrists, however.

  • discarted

    LAPD did this to me on Halloween night, but I refused to leave. I said if you want to cite me for blocking the sidewalk then please do, but I’m not moving or leaving. I have a right to observe and photograph the detainment. I was never cited.

  • Boomer

    It’s astounding isn’t it? Directly across the street there’s any number of people not doing anything, and it didn’t seem that the officer felt they had to move along. When he spots this individual with his camera it turns into loitering. Why does that simple action seem to offend these officers so much? What on earth could make them so upset that they feel it necessary to make an issue over something which is completely within the law they’re sworn to uphold?

    Is it that they’re afraid the cameraman is trying to catch them doing something with which the public would find fault? I’d say this officer succeeded in giving much evidence of that.

    Is it because they’re conducting undercover operations and don’t wish to be compromised? That seems unlikely given that the vehicles were clearly marked police cars, and the officers were in uniform.

    Or is it more that they simply don’t like being photographed, on any level, without consent?

    The authority to order him to move along seems shaky, at best, and downright creepy at worst.

    And he’ll wonder why people dislike police officers. And truly, won’t come up with an answer.

    That is very sad, indeed.

    • JdL

      What on earth could make them so upset that they feel it necessary to make an issue over something which is completely within the law they’re sworn to uphold?

      Just a wild guess: they’re frightened cowards with a guilty conscience? The bigger the bully, the smaller the man underneath. A real man is secure within himself and does not feel a need to push other people around.

      • Difdi

        If the cops have nothing to hide, all a video will show is what awesome officers of the law they are. Such a video of outstanding police work could well get them raises and promotions.

        Of course, if they’re breaking the law and department policies…

    • stk33

      > Directly across the street there’s any number of people not doing anything, and it didn’t seem that the officer felt they had to move along

      Cops are sure that everybody’s normal attitude towards them is respect, so they probably believe that other bystanders are on their side; while the one who is taping them is clearly not. If other bystanders somehow indicated their non-approval, I can imagine that the cops would react similarly. Once they perceive someone’s hostility, it’s very short distance from that to “the officer was afraid for his safety”, and we all know what can follow.

  • rick

    Time to read loitering statutes for my state…
    I imagine the threat of being arrested is an incredible deterrent even when you know you aren’t in violation of any laws.

    City ordinance (106-31):

    Even under 106-31 subsection 6 a no loitering sign or local business owner needs to ask him to leave before he is in violation of the law.

    • Difdi

      Exercise of a constitutional right or gathering news is acting in a manner usual for law-abiding individuals. Therefore a loitering charge would not apply under 106-31 unless the person ran from law enforcement or refused to identify themselves on request.

      Having explained the lawful activity the person is engaged in (such as public photography for news gathering purposes), the officer no longer has cause to suspect loitering which would result in a dismissal of the charge if the officer made the arrest anyway.

      Of course, since the officer’s goal is not to make a loitering arrest but to interfere with exercise of rights, the officer wins despite the charge being dismissed.

      • Frank Ney

        Which is why such events need to be recorded and referred to Internal Affairs and the appropriate prosecutor.

  • Gordon Freeman

    Is there a large Police department that ISN’T under investigation for human rights abuses?

  • John Kruzelock

    Well are they going to arrest all the smokers that have to stand outside while lighting up?????

  • John Kruzelock

    “JDL” has to most, best accurate answer as to why any cop doesn’t want to be in the camera eye.

  • steveo

    Lots and lots of great case law precedents in FL about the State loitering statute. Vagrancy, which is a term that has disappeared from most State law books was the pre-cursor to loitering (gone since 1971). Our loitering statute has taken many hits in the courts over abuse by leos and is quite specific as to whether a leo can charge someone with this “crime”. Usually, loitering has to be coupled with prowling, but not necessarily. A loitering charge here is a $120 bail offense and if one waits for the 1st appearance which has to occur within 24 hrs of arrest in FL, the judge usually looks pretty sideways at the pc affidavit unless there are specific facts to warrant the pc.
    In the above case, this wouldn’t fly here, but not saying that leos wouldn’t abuse the statute because they do all the time. Also from case law:

    “Under the provisions of this statute (FL), the elements of the offense are: (1) the defendant loitered or prowled in a place, at a time, or in a manner not usual for law-abiding individuals; (2) such loitering and prowling were under circumstances that warranted a justifiable and reasonable alarm or immediate concern for the safety of persons or property in the vicinity. This alarm is presumed under the statute if, when a law officer appears, the defendant flees, conceals himself, or refuses to identify himself. Prior to any arrest, the defendant must be afforded an opportunity to dispel any alarm or immediate concern by identifying himself and explaining his presence and conduct. If it appears at trial that the explanation is true and would have dispelled the alarm or immediate concern, then the defendant may not be convicted under this statute.” “This statute comes into operation only when the surrounding circumstances suggest to a reasonable man some threat and concern for the public safety.”

    Tell the leo you are performing newsgathering activities and doing a documentary which is not a lie. Or carry a sign wth you or better yet a T-shirt that says Re-elect Judge So and So, then you would be political campaigning. That would be the topic of conversation in courthouse the next day for being arrested for loitering when you are campaigning for one of Judges and newsgathering. This would definately make the Smoking Gun: a videographer standing there in front of Judge so and so with a re-elect Judge So and So shirt on, telling the judge he got arrested for campaigning for his re-election.

    • genewitch

      Man, someone should make a website where you can find out what judges are likely to catch what cases in states where you can see a judge within 24 hours after a stupid arrest. This is such a marvelous plan. If you remain completely legal, the cops will eventually stop harassing videographers with judge’s names on their shirts that aren’t doing anything else illegal. Eventually this will affect the judges too. If they see enough BS charges filed against people with their names on their shirts for filming, then they’ll cast suspicion on any such charges filed against anyone.

      It’s perfectly safe, legal, and non-violent. Who are you?

  • steveo

    I always use the example (not with leos: my rule, don’t discuss street law with leos) of what if this happened to Abraham Zapruder when he was filming the motorcade from the pedestal by the Grassy Knoll. We would have lost the most valuable 27 seconds of film making in history.

  • steveo

    Important info from the Supreme
    Court of FL

    “The statute (loitering or prowling) is not to be used as a “catch-all” provision hereby citizens may be detained by police and charged by prosecutors when there is an insufficient
    basis to sustain a conviction on some other charge. Rather, it is a specific prohibition against
    specific conduct. All elements of this crime must be satisfied.”

  • Tom Joad

    According to Wikipedia, loitering would have to be linked to illegal activity. It was (vs. morales) too vague when challenged as simply staying in one place with “no purpose”, so was better defined, and videotaping cops would not be considered loitering.

    • stk33

      But it was in Illinois, and the issue was heavily disputed. If it was so controversial for SC justices, you can’t blame the cop. He makes the arrest, and the court will decide. Note btw that in Illinois this law was only applicable to recognized gang members.

      I can imagine that the city will argue that if the citizen had any doubts on whether his standing idly was unlawful or not, because the law was vague, he shouldn’t have any after police officer told him that it was in fact illegal.

  • HonorYourOath

    ” Officer I’m gathering content for a story,I’m engaged in constitutionally protected activity,safe gaurded by the 1st Amendment…so if I’m not being detained you can piss off!” I’m getting so sick of these num nut oath violating LEO’s!

  • stk33

    Chapter 106-31 of Milwaukee ordinance makes loitering unlawful within the limits of the city. Definition of “loiter” (search for “define loiter” at google): “Stand or wait around idly or without apparent purpose.” Which means that if the officer is asking why you are here, and you say “because I want to”, this falls under the definition of loitering. According to the ordinance cited above, the officer should allow you to leave, which he did. If you refuse, then arrest is justified.

    The real issue should be taken with the ordinance that criminalizes “standing idly” – which is almost certainly unconstitutional. Plus the fact that it practically leaves up to the cop whether the purpose of standing is “apparent”, or not – so the cop can practically arrest anybody for any purpose and leave to the court to decide whether the purpose was good enough. But overturning this city ordinance is certainly up to the court rather than the cop. Maybe it’s something ACLU should get involved into.