Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Michigan High Court Didn’t Forget About Dr. Dre: Police Cannot Invoke Private Conversation in Public

In a rare term of wit, one of my favorite states—as I live there part of the year—has managed to come down with a ruling about recording the police while in public. This happened over a case involving rapper Dr. Dre and one of his concerts.

According to an article in the Michigan Messenger,

The suit was filed by Gary Brown, now a Detroit City Councilman but formerly a high-ranking police official. He and other officers were videotaped while threatening to shut down a concert featuring Dre and Eminem if they showed a sexually explicit video. The video was then included in a DVD produced about the tour.

The court, in a 6-1 ruling, dismissed the suit, saying that there is no right to privacy for police while on the job. The implications of this ruling are far more important than they may seem initially because it explicitly makes it legal in the state of Michigan to record the police while they perform their duties.

This is incredibly important because cell phone videos of police officers have revealed misconduct, abuse and lying on reports in case after case around the country. But in some states, like Illinois, it is illegal to videotape the police in the performance of their duties.

It should be made clear that the police in this happened to be proceeding in the back stage of a concert with multiple cameras and third parties wandering everywhere. The concept of a “public space” was in full force and the conversation was not taken out of public into private.

The entire idea that public officers would be stupid enough to argue that they had an “expectation of privacy” in these circumstances is wholly ridiculous. I would love to see what the single dissenting ruling opinion had to say on this subject.

Furthermore, if you are a public official and operating in that capacity and in public while doing so there’s no real expectation of privacy. Many police SOP is to report all contact with civilians when operating in an official capacity; the requirement of report itself removes any concept of expectation of privacy. The operations of law upon the citizenry should be fully accessible to the citizens they affect sans a writ or warrant withdrawing it from them. This is necessary especially for the ability of the public to assist with their own defense against the State in matters of accusation.

I should be able to record any conversation I am a participant thereof—and further, especially those that involve the operations of public law.

This does not infer that such recordings should be automatically admissible in a court of law; but it should proceed forth from the law that anything that I can legally access should be mine to retain.

The ex-officer in this case felt that the recording of his actions embarrassed him. And they did—his actions were embarrassing. As an officer of the court and a holder of the public trust he was entrusted with certain powers and authorities that flow forth from that public trust and part of being a public official is being under public scrutiny and the public eye.

Many states still have laws on their books which make recording the police illegal; even when the police have the right to record a conversation or action with an individual who is directly affected by it. This really needs to stop. Recording the police is not “wiretapping” and stretching laws that prohibit wiretapping and eavesdropping is obviously ridiculous when the police are exempt from the same rules sans need of a warrant.

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