War on Cameras

New York Cops Know People Have a Right to Record Them; They Just Don't Care

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Two weeks ago the NYPD sent officers a memo reminding them that "members of the public are legally allowed to record police interactions." In fact, "intentional interference such as blocking or obstructing cameras or ordering the person to cease constitutes censorship and also violates the First Amendment." The memo said cops may take action against camera-wielding civilians only if they "interfere with police operations." The directive sounds similar to one issued by Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier two years ago. If you are wondering why such reminders are considered necessary, it is because of incidents like this, described in a federal lawsuit filed last year by Brooklyn resident Dick George:

On or about June 14, 2012, at approximately 6:00 p.m., Plaintiff was sitting in his motor vehicle and parked at or near the intersection of Ocean Avenue and Albemarle Road, Brooklyn, New York, when he observed Lt. [Dennis] Ferber, Sgt. [Patrick] Golden and PO [Stacey] Robinson exit their unmarked police vehicle and approach three young, black youths congregated on the sidewalk and immediately begin to frisk and search them.

Plaintiff took photographs of this encounter between the defendant police officers and the three youths with his cellular telephone.

As the defendant police officers were returning to their vehicle, Plaintiff commented to one of the youths that "in situations like that, next time make sure and ask to see a badge number or some identification from the police," or words to that effect.

Having apparently heard what Plaintiff had said, Lt. Ferber retorted, "What did he just say to them, get our badge number…let's go get him," or words to that effect.

The defendant police officers then entered their police vehicle and began following Plaintiff's vehicle.

After stopping George's car, the cops roughed him up, handcuffed him, and took him to the precinct house, where he was strip-searched, locked in a cell, and charged with disorderly conduct. When he got his cellphone back after being released with a desk appearance ticket, he found that the photos of the stop-and-frisk encounter had been deleted.

According to George's complaint, the cops repeatedly told him he was getting what he deserved for "being an activist." Ferber allegedly said something like: "Now we are going to give you what you deserve for meddling in our business and when we finish with you, you can sue the city for $5,000,000 and get rich. We don't care."

That estimate was off by a factor of 40. The New York Daily News reported on Monday that the city agreed to settle George's lawsuit for $125,000. "After a thorough review of the case facts," a lawyer for the city said, "it was in the best interest of all to resolve this matter without costly litigation and trial."

The officers, of course, are not on the hook for any of that money, which will instead come out of taxpayers' pockets. And judging from the comments reported by George, the prospect of litigation does not deter this sort of unlawful bullying. The problem was not that the cops didn't realize they were violating George's rights; it was that they did not care, because they did not expect to suffer any negative consequences as a result—for good reason, according to the lawsuit:

The supervisory staff of the NYPD has consistently failed to investigate allegations such as those contained herein and to discipline officers who have violated NYPD guidelines. The investigation of these incidents by central office and/or supervisory staff reflects a bias in favor of uniformed officers. Furthermore, officers and staff who are known to have violated an individual's civil rights in one command are often transferred by NYPD to another command rather than be disciplined, demoted or fired by the NYPD.

The cost of settling lawsuits like George's helps explain the recent NYPD memo. But reminding cops that they are supposed to respect people's constitutional rights will not accomplish much unless they suffer personally for violating them. Since courts have ruled that cops do not receive qualified immunity in cases like this (because the right to record them is well established), officers can theoretically find themselves owing damages to the people they victimize. But the usual practice in settling cases is to drop claims against individual cops along with claims against the city and the police department. Maybe it is time to reconsider that practice. The threat of financial ruin would be harder to laugh off than the threat of taxpayer-funded damages.

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  1. Thing is too that once you’ve pissed off someone on the police force, they’re going to fuck with you every time they see you. The only way to escape is to move.

    1. There’s another option, but it means you’ll eventually have to utter, “They drew first blood. They drew first blood.”

      1. This is not the first time you have described your life in the way of John Rambo.

        1. Well I have been spat upon. More than once.

        2. Maybe he just has the ‘Hunger’.

          1. Well, it makes sense. That raccoon meat is lousy with parasites.

    2. sarcasmic,

      I would like to thank you for the link to the Siberian twerkers and to take back any mean remark that I have ever sent your way.

      That is all,
      EAP

      1. Happy to be of service.

  2. Ferber allegedly said something like: “Now we are going to give you what you deserve for meddling in our business and when we finish with you, you can sue the city for $5,000,000 and get rich. We don’t care.”

    Welp, that’s enough Hit & Run for the day. If I read any more stories like this, I’m gonna start smashing things, and I can’t afford to smash too many things.

  3. Furthermore, officers and staff who are known to have violated an individual’s civil rights in one command are often transferred by NYPD to another command rather than be disciplined, demoted or fired by the NYPD.

    Just like the Catholic Church with priests who like their altar boys to perform extra activites.

    1. So priests are exempt from criminal prosecution?

  4. William Bratton is more concerned about the surfaces of buildings than the rights of citizens.

  5. This is no longer a cop problem, this is a judge problem and a city problem. The rule is that when law is clear, the government official forfeits sovereign immunity and is personally liable. More importantly, when this happens, the official ceases to be a government official for the purposes of their act. That means the government legally cannot defend them in the case or pay any judgement. The City of New York is breaking the law by settling these cases. They should claim that the cop acted contrary to clear law and thus outside the scope of his authority. This would do two things, get the taxpayers off the hook for damages and make the cop personally liable for the damages.

    This isn’t happening for two reasons. First, because fuck you the city doesn’t give a shit. Second, the plaintiffs don’t want it to happen since the city is the deep pocket. That is where the judges come in. The judges should be refusing to find the city liable in this cases and assessing the the judgements against the cops. In fairness, they might be willing to do just that but never get the chance since the city settles out of court. Basically the cops own the city government and thus the taxpayers will be paying for the cops’ misconduct.

    1. And whose side are the judges on?

      1. We will never know as long as the city pays off the plaintiff before it goes to court.

      2. I’m sure judges get plenty of “professional courtesy” from the police, and I’m sure they like it that way. Rule against the police and they might start getting treated like anyone else.

    2. What about holding the police union itself liable. They have plenty deep pockets and when cop union dues quintuple as a result of a couple lost civil rights cases the boys in blue will start policing each other.

      1. If you could prove they engaged in a conspiracy to get their officers to ignore the law, maybe.

    3. The deep pockets problem is solved by requiring the cops to purchase malpractice insurance.

      Insurance companies may then have a say in who gets to be a cop.

  6. …the city agreed to settle George’s lawsuit for $125,000. “After a thorough review of the case facts,” a lawyer for the city said, “it was in the best interest of all to resolve this matter without costly litigation and trial.”

    The city is doing everything it can to save the taxpayers money!

    1. The city is illegally paying the personal judgements of its cops. This is no different than the city paying a personal injury judgement resulting from an off duty auto accident. The law is clear, the cop broke it and is thus outside the scope of his duties and not entitled to either, immunity or representation by the city much less indemnification for any judgment.

      The city attorney is supposed to make a determination that the cop acted within the scope of his employment and authority before agreeing to defend him. I would love to read that memo.

      1. I do wonder whether the department really discourages the practice of allowing taping. If so and assuming there’s proof of that, despite the stated policy, there’s a great question about whether the government is responsible.

        1. True. If it is shown the city ordered the cop to ignore the law or is negligent in ensuring its cops follow the law, which it clearly is, then the city is on the hook as well. I can’t remember my municipal law well enough to recall if failure to train or supervise on the city’s fault also relieves the cop of personal responsibility for breaking clearly established law. My sense is that it doesn’t but I can’t remember for sure.

          1. Failure to train could create multiple avenues of responsibility.

            Rule 50/50 between individual and city or something.

  7. When you think about it, it really isn’t surprising that a riot broke out in Ferguson. Assuming that unaccountable police are the cause of the problem, it’s surprising that New York City hasn’t had a full scale riot in, what, about a year?

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new…..-1.1287452

    I wonder how often small scale riots really happen in this country. Anybody else remember the church burning mania, where for a while, there, everybody thought there was an epidemic of racists burning down black churches? Turned out there was nothing behind it. So many churches burn down every year because there’s nobody there six days-a-week, etc. Churches just burn down more often than anyone realized.

    Maybe small scale anti-police riots are like that. Maybe we think they’re really unusual, but they’re actually happening all over the country all the time. Maybe they’re getting covered in the local media but never make the headlines in the major markets–until they get to a scale like Ferguson’s. Just because a small scale riot happens in the middle of a forest, and there’s no major market media coverage there to hear it, that doesn’t mean it didn’t really happen at all.

    1. Maybe but doubtful. First, it is not like “OMG the scary Negroes are rioting” is a story the media doesn’t like or won’t tell. Second, most of the rioters in Ferguson are not from there. The “riot” such at it is is a completely staged event by the usual band of leftist assholes and race mongers.

      1. How many actual “rioters” are there, though? I woudl distinguish rioters from people protesting and engaging in peaceful civil disobedience. It seems like the riot aspect is largely caused by opportunists looking for an opportunity to do some looting and burning. But I really don’t know how many of each there are. Too bad the press can’t get a good picture of what is really happening.

  8. While an end to qualified immunity would be the best case scenario, from the city’s perspective, a plausible strategy to address the incentives would be to set aside a bonus pool in lieu of next year’s raise and declare that all settlements will be paid out of that pool.

  9. I do wonder whether the department really discourages the practice of allowing taping. If so and assuming there’s proof of that, despite the stated policy, there’s a great question about whether the government is responsible.

    A pattern of lawlessness and criminal conspiracy?

    RICO.

  10. As someone else suggested, take the settlements out of the NYPD pension fund. They’ll start to care.

  11. “You can’t do this. We just got permission from the chief of police hisself.”

    “It went out in a memo.”

    “Is that right? Well, we ain’t got a memo.”

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