SANATOGA PA – Almost everyone has a cell phone. Almost every cell phone has a camera. Almost every cell phone camera can capture photos and videos, and some of those captured images have created trouble for police departments across the country, admits Lower Pottsgrove Township Police Chief Michael Foltz.
Too often, Foltz recently explained (Sept. 4, 2012) to the Board of Commissioners, that trouble resulted not from what was caught on camera but because law enforcers wrongly tried to prevent cameras from catching anything. Courts have made it clear, he said, that individuals have a constitutionally protected right to record police officers in the discharge of their duties, so long as the area where filming occurs is publicly accessible.
Until last month there was little, if anything, amid the department’s policies and procedures to guide its officers on how to deal with this nuance of the digital age. That has changed with the board’s adoption of a Foltz-recommended addition to its policy manual, titled “Video Recording And Photographing Police Officers.”
It states the department “prohibits officers from threatening, intimidating, discouraging, or in any way prohibiting any individual from photographing or video recording (with or without simultaneous audio recording) of police activity, so long as the person’s location, actions and / or behavior do not create a legitimate, articulable threat to officer safety or an unlawful hindrance to successful resolution of the official police activity.”
In layman’s terms: so long as Lower Pottsgrove’s finest agree that professional and amateur photographers and videographers alike are where they should be, and are not posing a threat to officers or the work they’re doing, the policy acknowledges the shutterbugs are free to click and whirr away.
The policy applies to all types, forms, makes and models of photo or video recording devices, and even mentions the popular “Apple iPad” tablet. Recording can be conducted in “all areas where individuals enjoy a legal right to be present,” according to the policy, including an individual’s home, business or other private property. It’s not confined to only township streets and sidewalks.
Also, officers “must not intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices in any manner,” it adds. It prohibits warrant-less seizure or confiscation of a recording device under most circumstances … but not all.
Camera owners should be aware the policy allows officers to take and hold a recording device if they have probable cause to believe it contains “critical evidence of a felony crime” and if the owner denies voluntary surrender of the device after officers request it and explain why it is needed. If a device is seized, the policy dictates, it must not be held longer than necessary for an officer to obtain a warrant for the evidence.
Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board o Commissioners’ Sept. 4 meeting):
Composite photo created from Google Images