The ubiquity of handheld recording devices in phones has made recording of police activity more prevalent than ever. Video footage of Eric Garner's death in New York led to protest marches and calls for a criminal investigation into the police actions. Even more recently, a camera phone captured a conflict between police and a homeless man in Los Angeles. The footage shows police shooting and killing the man though he appears to be subdued on the ground. And in recent weeks a video recording of an officer shooting and killing an unarmed driver who ran from police led to criminal charges being filed against the officer in South Carolina. Video evidence alone cannot illustrate the entire context of a given situation. However, it is crucial for understanding the difficult work that police have and for defending the public against police misconduct. In California, one lawmaker wants to ensure that the public's right to record police activity is rigorously defended.
Recording police activity in public is legal. Whoever is recording the police cannot interfere with their work or compromise the officers' safety. But even though citizens do have a right to record police, there are times when the police aggressively attempt to stop such recordings. As a recent editorial in the San Jose Mercury News puts it, "Citizens can legally videotape police officers performing their duties in public places -- so long as they do not interfere. Yet some police officers are either ignorant of that fact or have willfully chosen to disregard the law." To combat this, California Senator Ricardo Lara's SB 411 was recently passed by the California Senate. According to a press release issued by Senator Lara's office, SB 411 reiterates and reaffirms the public's right to record police activity in public. This right is fundamental in a society where the public must be an aggressive watchdog and committed partner with law enforcement authorities.