Just hours after Baltimore police issued a directive telling its 3,100 officers that they can't arrest or seize cameras from people merely for photographing or videotaping them, officers were caught on tape seemingly doing just that.
On Tuesday, the National Press Photographers Association sent a letter to Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III voicing its concern. The new video showed officers threatening to arrest a man near Cross Street Market in Federal Hill for taping an arrest.
"While it is understandable that your officers had a heightened sense of awareness during this incident, that is still no excuse for them not to recognize a citizen's right to record a matter of public concern occurring in a public place," the letter says.
It continues: "Law enforcement agencies are established to uphold and enforce existing laws, not to use them as a pretext to punish someone exercising their free speech right to take photographs/videotape in public. This activity is protected by the First Amendment and may not be restricted by officers wishing to avoid the documentation of their actions."
The directives put out by police warn officers that they cannot stop people from photographing, and need a warrant to seize cameras without permission from the owner. Read the new rules here. But they also allow officers to move people away from scenes if they are disruptive, disorderly, loitering, or hindering officers from their duties.
The loitering statute is what officers in the Cross Street Market video use to tell the cameraman to leave the area. Maryland appellate courts define loitering as “to stand around in a public place and engage in conduct prohibited under this law.”
Photographing police is not against the law. Therefore, it could be argued, he was not loitering.
Meanwhile, a federal civil trial is to continue in a case in which a man said police seized his camera and erased pictures he took of an arrest at the 2010 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico. A federal judge this week denied a motion by city attorneys to throw out the suit.
In that case, theU.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division is urging the judge to side with the cameraman.