Judiciary Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-245

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE RECORDING OF POLICE ACTIVITY BY THE PUBLIC.

Vote Date:

3/21/2012

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

3/12/2012

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Judiciary Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

There have been numerous incidents throughout the nation in which citizens have been harassed and threatened and arrested for recording what would seem to be public action by police officers.

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Kevin Kane, Division of Criminal Justice: The Division has strong reservations. This bill appears to place the burden of proof on the police officer when it should in fact be placed with the individual claiming that he or she has somehow been wronged. This raises the very real prospect that someone will be shoving a video recorder or other recording device in the police officer's face just for an opportunity to obtain some type of settlement. The potential for abuse and detrimental impact on the ability of the police to investigate criminal activity or serious incidents and protect innocent victims and witnesses far outweighs the uncertain benefit the bill might offer. While there may have been some incidents that gave rise to this legislation, the bill as now written is far too broad and raises serious concerns and ramifications that far outweigh any concerns raised to date. Unless there is clear evidence of a widespread and continuing problem this bill should be rejected. It is bad policy to try to write a broad statute to fix a perceived problem.

Reuben F. Bradford: Commissioner of Department of Emergency and Public Protection: This bill would impose civil liability on police officers who “interfere” with anyone including the media, attempting to video record any police activity. There is no limitation on the nature of the interference and the liability would be in regard to anyone, including media representatives. Law enforcement functions affected would include processing crime scenes and interviewing witnesses in public areas. This would also include videotaping of deaths or serious injuries and crime scenes before notification to family is made. Witnesses might be exposed to problems if their pictures or images are obtained by the wrong people or publicized on TV, or the papers.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Martin M. Looney, State Senator: Supports this legislation. It is difficult to understand how a police officer has any expectation of privacy in his or her pubic duties and in the 111th Congress, Congressman Townes submitted a resolution expressing that state and federal wiretapping laws were never intended to be used against citizens in this manner. I believe that creating a possible cause of action against officers who attempt to intimidate citizens in this manner would serve as a deterrent to this behavior.

Sandra Staub: ACLU-CT Legal Director: The ACLU of Connecticut supports this legislation because it strikes the proper balance between citizens' First Amendment rights and an officer's duty to protect and serve. It is good policy and necessary, because it will enshrine into statute what has already been clearly established in case law: That citizens have a right to record peace officers carrying out their official duties in public, and if an officer violates that right he or she will be held civilly liable.

Monica Fore: Testimony submitted by Monica Fore concerning this legislation contained no direct references to the subject matter of this bill.

Mario Cerame, Founder, Righttorecord.org: Supports this legislation with certain changes. The proliferation of citizen-recordings of police conduct offers four benefits, all for free. The recordings provide necessary evidence, deter police misconduct, enable direct civic participation and are crucial to police legitimacy in the eyes of the community. Similarly, there are four concerns articulated about the proliferation of cameras in the hands of ordinary citizens. Recordings may be taken in an unsafe manner, may delay an investigation, may be taken out of context; and may cause personal offense, to officers or others: the privacy-in-public question.

Changes recommended:

Add, Subsection: for the purposes of this section, “interferes with any person taking a photographic or digital still or video image” means:

1. Physically obstructs or hinders taking such image:

2. Threatens to impose criminal liability or otherwise abuse the criminal process in retaliation for the person taking such image;

3. Seizes private property related to taking such image, without a subpoena, warrant, or probable cause; or

4. Knowingly or recklessly tampers with private property related to taking such images in a manner that damages, degrades, or causes the loss of such image

To curtail abuse of CGS 53a-167, 54a-182, add the following at the end of (c)

“respecting that recording police in public is not, without something more, itself a violation of law.”

Because of the trouble recognizing a right of privacy-in-public poses law enforcement, because of the unclear scope of “privacy” in the section, and because of the questionable nature of privacy-in-public, I would delete section (4).

The Act should allow for reasonable attorneys' fees. The people who most need the ability to hold accountable those officers who abuse their power are the same people least able to afford an attorney.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Sgt. Richard Holton, President Hartford Police Union: Opposes this legislation. We believe that citizen's rights are already granted and protected under the federal and state constitution but we don't believe that they have an absolute right to interfere, hamper or obstruct an officer in the performance of their duties. If a citizen feels they were not treated properly or their rights were infringed upon there are avenues for that to be addressed. To create a law because of the acts of a few individuals, the law enforcement society should not be held liable for those actions.

Ron Thomas: Connecticut Conference of Municipalities: Opposes this legislation.

This bill would increase municipal liability exposure and encourage litigation. It would allow persons to sue police officers if such officers prevent the taking of pictures under certain circumstances. This bill would be an invitation for persons to try to get at the perceived “deep pockets” of communities and punish municipalities. It would further complicate the already tenuous work of police officers and could cause a “chilling effect” since police officers would constantly evaluate whether to secure the integrity of a scene or risk a liability suit.

Reported by: George Marinelli

Date: March 22, 2012