The word is out -- Baltimore police are to leave people with cameras alone. The police commissioner quickly suspended an officer last month who grabbed a camera phone away from a lady taping a car stop outside her house.
But police officers still need room to work, and an incident captured on Sunday and posted to YouTube shows some of the pitfalls on the street. An officer had stopped a young man for riding on the back of an illegal dirt bike and a bystander at an event called Youth Justice Sunday quickly started filming.
Not only did the the man record a 9-minute videotape, he questioned the officer as he talked with the suspect. "You're not allowed to reach into his pockets," the man said.
The officer responded: "He broke the law."
"Where's the evidence of that?" the cameraman said.
"I saw him," said the officer.
"Are you sure you saw him?" came the response, as the cameraman zoomed in on the arresting officer's name tag.
Videos have both helped and hurt city officers in recent months and years. One video shows the perils of policing -- a bystander attacking an officer as he made an arrest, quickly used by the department to demonstrate the hazards officers face. Others have showed officers confronting cameramen, as in this case, where they cite the loitering statue to get a man to stop filming.
City police are embroiled in a federal court case stemming from the seizure of a cell phone that captured the arrest of a woman at the Preakness, and the city's police commissioner has issued a directive to officers telling them it's legal for citizens to film officers in public.
In Sunday's case, unlike in some earlier videos, the arresting officer and others who came to help were not about to make the cameraman stop recording. But they did want him to move back. It's a safety issue -- the officers were clearly distracted by the camera and turned their attention away from the suspect to engage the bystanders.
Robert F. cherry, the president of the city police union, said that he has forwarded this video to the commissioner, chief of patrol and legal office and wants a meeting to discuss the issue. He feels the suspension of the officer for taking the camera away from the woman is scaring officers into thinking they can't take any action.
"A lot of cops are afraid of doing anything to anyone if they're holding a cell phone or a camera," Cherry said. "An officer making an arrest never wants anyone to get too close to them. It's for their safety and for the safety of the person they're arresting.
"This officer is clearly making an arrest," the union president said. "He's the only one there. He's on the radio asking for backup." Cherry said the cameraman could've been arrested for hindering, given that he repeatedly refused to back up.
"It think our guys are confused right now," Cherry said. "If this guy didn't have a camera in his hand, you think the officers would've let him get so close? He can videotape from across the street."
On the tape, the officer says to the cameraman, "You know what, another officer is going to come here and you're going to have back up when he does."
"That's fine, I can wait," comes the answer.
Another officers arrives and says, "Back up man, seriously, you're right in my face." He says a bit later, "You can videotape but we need some room to work. ... You mind not standing so close to me. You're freaking me out."
The man answers: "I'm peaceful."
The bystanders said they participating in an event seeking alternatives to "putting young black men in jail" and they hand some literature to the officers and tell one, "You got to educate yourself."
As the officers take the young man to jail, one bystander says on tape, "It's Palm Sunday. They got three officers down here locking him up for riding on the back of a bike."
The man asks the officer he plans to read the literature. "Of course I'm going to read it," he says. "You gave it to me."
Then the cop says, "See you next time."