In the wake of the viral video of the killing of a Staten Island man by police, a memo was recently issued by the NYPD Police Commissioner William Bratton’s office reminding officers that it is legal for them to be filmed while on duty.
“Members of the public are legally allowed to record police interaction,” the memo reads according to an article in The Daily News, which originally reported the story.
The memo served as a warning to officers that any attempt to prevent a person from recording such as blocking cameras or ordering them to stop “constitutes censorship and also violates the First Amendment.”
“I think recording police officers is a good idea,” said Stafford Nichol, a Far Rockaway, Queens resident. “It’s better for the person being arrested because it will give an account of what happened with the officer.”
The policy clarification came less than two weeks after a bystander recorded an attempted arrest on Staten Island which resulted in the death of local resident Eric Garner. The video showed a white officer tackling Garner, who was black, in a chokehold. Garner was repeatedly heard telling officers “I can’t breathe.” The incident resulted in accusations of racism against the officers.
“I have seen the video of Mr. Garner, such a shame I’ve seen a few others too,” said Cedlyne Jean-Joseph, a Jamaica, Queens resident. Jean-Joseph, who said she had been aware of the right to film the police, said she had never felt the need until now.
“It’s really unfortunate how police officers have the green light to do and act how ever they want,” said Jean-Joseph. “They are becoming the new KKK.”
Both Nichol and Jean-Jean said, while they themselves have never been harassed by police, they have heard stories and know friends and family who have. “Growing up in my neighborhood I have seen people getting arrested just for coming out the park late at night, it makes no sense,” said Nichol.
When it comes to recording on duty officers and exercising their right Jean-Joseph and Nichol expressed different views. “I’ve learned to always mind my business, what they are doing to whoever is none of my business,” said Jean-Joseph.
Speaking from personal experience Jean-Joseph said she knew of instances where officers knew they were being recorded and became more aggressive, even snatching the camera away from the person. “It’s kind of scary if you ask me,” said Jean-Joseph.
Unlike Jean-Joseph, Nichol said he thinks police recordings will, “change how they conduct their arrest and how they deal with the community.” When it comes to exercising his right to record officers, Nichol said, “If the situation calls for me to record police harassment I will.”