Washington DC – We recently covered the story of DC police being prohibited from having their body cameras on during the inauguration protests, and the ACLU responded to the story.
DC Police officers have been told to keep their body cameras off during the inauguration day protests, with claims that it’s a violation of protester’s rights to record them in a public place (see full details HERE .)
When we covered the story, we placed the blame squarely on the administrators who made this decision, not the ACLU. The ACLU doesn’t make these decisions, they just spout their nonsense at the people who do make the decisions. Unfortunately for everybody, if the administrators believe the ACLU, then they’re wrong.
The ACLU’s response says that it’s not their “demands” which are keeping the cameras off, it’s DC law. And while the ACLU pushed for implementation of the law, they say that the law’s the law, and it’s not their fault that DC cops have to keep their body cameras off. After all, it’s the law that says so; except the problem is, that’s not what the law says.
MPD officers may record First Amendment assemblies for the purpose of documenting violations of law and police actions, as an aid to future coordination and deployment of law enforcement units, and for training purposes; provided, that recording First Amendment assemblies shall not be conducted for the purpose of identifying and recording the presence of individual participants who are not engaged in unlawful conduct. That explicitly allows for officers to have their body cameras on at the protests. It says that officers are allowed to record the protesters on the condition that the recording isn’t done for the purpose of identifying protesters who are engaged in legal activity. However, police officers wouldn’t be recording for that purpose, they’d be recording to identify people involved in illegal activity, and to document police actions, just as the law allows for.
The focus here is all on the actual purpose of the recording. If the intent of the police department is not to record legal protesters with the intent of identifying them, then it’s legal for the officers to have their cameras on.
The way the law is written, it’s all based on the intent of the police department at the time they make the recording. If the department makes the recording with the intent of using the footage to only identify criminals, then all of the body cameras can be on.
Furthermore, with some groups like #DISRUPTJ20 and anarchist groups saying that they are going to shut down the inauguration, there’s reason for police officers to believe that there will be criminal activity at the Inauguration Day protests specifically. That’s as good a reason as ever to keep the cameras on.
In my years of working in law enforcement and being around lawyers, I’ve noticed that they are frequently either ignorant about the law, or they intentionally lie about what the law says. When nobody challenges their misinformation, pretty soon it starts to spread around and be accepted as fact. I can’t say for sure that the ACLU is intentionally trying to mislead people here, but I can tell you that they are wrong.
Let’s see if we can spread this to more people than the ACLU reaches with their nonsense.
UPDATE: DC police are mandating cameras to be on. Click HERE for more info.
Why do you think the ACLU is spreading misinformation about the law? Please let us know in the comments below.