The police have a lot of power: they decide who to pursue, who to arrest and who to charge. At that point, it becomes a matter for the courts (most of the time — cops as judge and jury is another rant). Recently, there’s been a lot of news concerning the police in the US using out-of-date laws to harass citizens who have taken videos of police action. This is directly coupled with videos that have put bad cops behind bars.
Get this out of the way first: I have no problem with the police and the function of the police. I also strongly believe that the majority of the police are upstanding people who do a very difficult and risky job to the best of their abilities. But the very essence of being a the police is exercising the power of the state to protect its citizens from each other through persuasion, use of force and finally use of deadly force or denial of liberty. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely: The police are people and people are corrupted by power.
This is to say, there exists bad cops and furthermore, cops are people, which means cops will have bad days and do bad things. The important point here in relation to my last paragraph is that bad cops and good cops on bad days can have profound negative affects on society — their abuse of their power amplifies the affect of their actions.
The Police are public figures. They perform a public duty in a public setting. As such, they (should) have no expectation of privacy. A good comparison would be politicians — who’s life of public service is so public as to not have any expectation of privacy for their entire term of office (or, indeed, anything the press can dig up concerning their past).
As public figures, I believe it to be a fundamental right for citizens to be able to video the police in public areas. It might be reasonable to insist that citizens are not endangering themselves and it might also be reasonable to insist that they are not hampering the police in the performance of their duties, but these are the only two exceptions I can conceive as reasonable.
Police testimony is taken with extra weight in court. They are assumed truthful unless clear evidence is adduced to the contrary. Video taken by citizens of police abuse and brutality has been essential in bringing several accused police officers to justice and that fact alone justifies the widespread video taping of police in public.
Just as videos taken in Afghanistan and Iraq horrified America as to what its government was doing overseas (and thus sparked a much needed rethink of their actions), if the public cannot stomach what it’s police are doing, then police behavior needs to be changed. I know the less-than-public argument is that police do “what needs to be done,” but in a democracy we reserve the right to examine what police do and we also reserve the right to give the police different marching orders.
It seems that the fight for this justice is going to continue. My hat is off to the brave (and sometimes unlucky) souls that are caught in the justice system due to police use of inappropriate laws as a scare tactic to make people think twice about holding them to account.