An Illinois cop told a man it was “now illegal to record a police officer in public” after the man claimed he had caught him sleeping in his car on Friday.
It is not illegal to record cops in Illinois, as we explained here, but it used to be under the state’s Draconian Eavesdropping Bill until the courts struck down that law as unconstitutional after a lengthy legal battle between the ACLU and the Cook County State Attorney last year.
The decision forced the state legislature to draft a new bill, which was signed into law last month by departing Governor Pat Quinn.
The law is still one of the strictest in the nation, forbidding citizens to surreptitiously record cops in public. Only Massachusetts makes its illegal to record cops or anybody else for that matter in public surreptitiously. And yes, as PINAC’s conservative readers like to point out, these are both traditionally democratic states.
Most all-party consent eavesdropping or wiretapping laws (terms that are used interchangeably depending on state), which make it illegal to record another person without their consent, have an expectation of privacy provision that makes it legal to record people in public, even surreptitiously.
In other words, if you are in public in an area where it is possible that a stranger can overhear the conversation, then it’s not illegal to surreptitiously record another person as long as you are part of that conversation.
However, ever since the new bill was introduced last month, numerous news sites have been reporting that it is still illegal to record cops in public, which is not only inaccurate, it allows police to lie to citizens that it is illegal when it’s not.
That’s what took place in this video out of Carbondale, a city in Southern Illinois, when a man said he spotted a local cop sleeping in his car for three hours in a church parking lot. After bypassing the Carbondale cop several times, Matt Fedora approached him with a camera recording, but the cop apparently woke up because he rolled down the window
“What are you doing, officer?” said Fedora.
“What’s up, bud?” the officer, who has not been identified responds.
Fedora was upset because he said the cop had been parked in the same parking lot for three hours while his home had been burglarized a week earlier, indicating that he would prefer the cop to drive through the neighborhood to thwart such incidents.
The cop denied having been parked in the parking lot that long, illegally it should be pointed out, as he was not inside a parking space, but the lot was empty.
“You’ve been here for the past three hours,” Fedora said. “Don’t lie to me, don’t lie to me.”
“I’m not lying to you,” the cop said.
“If you keep lying, I’m going to post this on Youtube,” Fedora said.
“Oh, so you’re recording?”
“Are you aware that it’s now illegal to record a police officer in public?”
Fedora told PINAC today that the batteries just happened to die at that exact moment, which is why the video goes out.
I didn’t really see a reason to keep filming. I just finished up what I was saying.. He apologized about my house getting broken into, and thanked me for “making sure he was doing his job”. I just walked away shaking my head pissed off.
Later that day, he posted the video on Facebook where it now has more than 46,000 views.
A local news station caught wind of the video and reached out to a local politician to clarify the law when it comes to recording police in public.
“It’s perfectly legal to video people in public, specifically police officers,” said Adams.
She’s unsure if the cop was asleep. However, the bigger concern is training officers to uphold the rights of citizens.
“Make sure that our police officers on patrol know what the law is and know what citizens rights are,” said Adams.
Carbondale Interim Police Chief Jeff Grubs says the department is investigating any wrongdoing.
“We don’t condone, nor will we tolerate, any type of workplace misconduct,” said Grubbs.
“Stuff like this really shouldn’t be happening,” said Fedora. “Especially when it’s a block away from where there were three robberies.”
Now while many commenters on Fedora’s Facebook page are upset that the cop may have been sleeping, I take more issue that he lied about the Eavesdropping Law.
I personally don’t have an issue with a cop catching a few winks as long as he has his radio on and is ready to spring into action when needed. Last thing we need is a sleep-deprived cop with a loaded gun making bad decisions. And I’d much rather him sleeping in a parking lot than shaking down innocent citizens.
But if it’s true he did sleep for three hours, then, of course, that is also an issue that needs to be addressed. And he’s surely not alone as the internet is filled with pictures and videos of cops sleeping.
For their own safety, they should be more careful because if a person can walk up to them with a camera and catch them sleeping, somebody else can walk up to them with a gun and kill them.
So I’m willing to forgive him for that.
But as far as lying about the Eavesdropping Law, that is just unforgivable. There is just no excuse for him not to know the law despite what so many news sites irresponsibly reported last month.
The law is far from perfect and although it was endorsed by the ACLU, the civil rights organization is now opposing it because it allows police to eavesdrop on citizens without a warrant.
But the ACLU has nobody to blame but themselves for that provision considering they were the ones who sued to get the previous law off the books.
According to Chicago Reader:
Like the way it expands the cops’ ability to surreptitiously record citizens during the course of an investigation. Instead of having to go to a judge for a warrant, in many cases all the police now need is the permission of a state’s attorney. The prospect of increased eavesdropping without a warrant is serious enough that the ACLU, which initially helped craft the legislation, now opposes the new law.
It’s “too great an expansion of police power,” says ACLU spokesman Edwin C. Yohnka.
As for conversations between ordinary citizens, the new law makes it illegal to surreptitiously record any communication when one or more parties has a “reasonable expectation” of privacy. What’s a “reasonable” expectation? “Any expectation recognized by law.” If you don’t know what that might cover (and who but a legal expert would?), you’re back to requiring express permission before you hit record if you want to be safe from potential prosecution.
And what about the situation that got Chris Drew in trouble? In the era of Ferguson and “I can’t breathe,” can Illinois citizens now record police officers in action? The ACLU says yes: the new law “respects” an appellate court ruling that cops on duty have “no reasonable expectation of privacy in their conversations in public places.” You won’t find that language in the law itself, however.
State representative Elaine Nekritz, who sponsored the bill in the house, says that’s no accident. We made a decision “not to specifically state that citizens can record cops,” Nekritz says. “I thought if we tried to describe every instance in which you either were or were not committing eavesdropping, we would run into more trouble than we’ve created by having this more general standard. We just can’t write every circumstance in which someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy.” Like the definition of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, she says, “we know it when we see it.”
They made a decision “not to specifically state that citizens can record cops”?
Wasn’t that the whole point of suing to get the old law off the books?
Yes, it was. The ACLU had sued because it wanted its observers to be able to record cops in public during the 2012 NATO Summit. And this was at a time when numerous people were being arrested on felony charges for recording cops in public.
But after years of legal wrangling, the new law that doesn’t even mention citizens can record cops, but allows cops to eavesdrop on citizens without obtaining a warrant?
So to whom can we turn to strike that law down as unconstitutional?