At a time when citizens all over the United States are constantly being punished and arrested for exercising their constitutional right to free press comes the passage of a fundamental law in Connecticut that provides citizens, especially photographers and filmmakers, the opportunity to carry out legal actions against police officers who arrest them for recording in public. Senate Bill 245, which was introduced by Democratic State Senator of Connecticut Eric Coleman, was approved and now must go before the House, and is planned to go into effect on October 1st of this year.
Proponents of the bill have all agreed that the legislation would serve to steadily protect a citizen’s right to observe law enforcement in action. When instituting the bill, Coleman made it a point to mention the 1991 videotaped beating by the LAPD of Rodney King and an incident from 2009, when Reverend James Manship was arrested by law enforcement after capturing footage of police officers bothering Hispanic business owners and shaking them down to see whether or not they were illegal immigrants. Manship’s arrest directed the Department of Justice to investigate the ordeal, which in turn led to the arrest of four officers.
The law provides that police officers, and peace officers alike, have the potential to be held accountable for damages when interfering in a citizen’s right to taking a photograph, digital or film still, or video recording of an officer, or his or her peer, while on the job.
Opponents of the bill argued that allowing public video recording taints evidence in a case and may expose witnesses to numerous problems, should the information be made to the public. It was also noted that police officers must be able to do their jobs without being subjected to statutory civil liability.
While the law opens up potential legal threat against police officers, there exist stipulations that specify when the legislation would be exempt. Police officers will not be liable if he or she believes that the halting of a citizen’s picture-taking or recording is necessary to stringently enforce a law concerning criminal law or municipal ordinances; protect the safety of the community; safeguard against a crime scene or the privacy interests of the parties involved in the crime or investigation; and enforce Judicial Branch rules and policies that limit photography, recording, and filmmaking,
Perhaps Connecticut’s passage of the bill will work to influence and empower other states to protect the rights of their citizens as it pertains to their individual constitutional rights of free press. As always, time will only tell. Be sure to let us know what you think below of the advancement, or in our forum.