A Fine Example of Why the Public Needs Access to Dashboard Cam Video…

A state FOI law working just as it should:

Police video recorded the night a young man was fatally shot in a northeast Arkansas patrol car while his hands were cuffed behind his back hasn’t resolved questions about whether he shot himself in the head as officers said.

Jonesboro police released footage to The Associated Press and other news organizations under a Freedom of Information Act request this week. They released more footage Friday amid questions about why the first batch of video appeared to end before the officers found Chavis Carter, 21, slumped over and bleeding in the back of a patrol car on July 28 as described in a police report. Police have said officers had frisked Carter twice without finding a gun.

Police said the second batch of video occurred after Carter was discovered, but that footage wasn’t immediately available in its entirety.

“There’s still nothing in there about what actually happened with Chavis,” Benjamin Irwin, a Memphis-based lawyer representing Carter’s family, said Friday before the second batch of video had been released.

In Kansas, the Cops Say “Trust Us…”

Not even a high-profile incident like an FBI investigation into police ticket-fixing will prompt Kansas lawmakers to let a little sunlight into police misconduct investigations. No state in the country rivals the secrecy of Kansas when it comes to the police investigating their own…

Lawrence Police Chief Tarik Khatib said the recent FBI investigation into a traffic ticket-fixing scheme and the removal of two high-ranking Lawrence police officers does not necessitate more transparency in police misconduct cases.

“We act appropriately and hold people accountable,” Khatib said.

For the past two years, the Lawrence Journal-World has requested the full reports for misconduct complaints against members of the Lawrence Police Department. The department has denied those requests, citing a personnel exemption in the Kansas open records law. However, police have furnished brief case summaries indicating which complaints were sustained.

Take our word for it, they say, and good taxpayers everywhere groan…

FOI At Work: The List of Institutions Who Can Fly Drones

Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the FAA has released a list of institutions that have asked for Certificates of Authorizations (COA) to fly drones in the United States.

That fact that the U.S. Air Force, DARPA and Department of Homeland Security are flying drones is no surprise. But what about the other institutions on the list?

It includes a number of universities from all over the country, including Cornell University, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State University and Eastern Gateway Community College. It makes sense for universities to have access to U.S. airspace to fly drones — after all, they are the ones doing a lot of the research on new drone technologies, so they might as well be able to test their own creations near campus.

More ominous is the list of local police forces given the green light to fly drones: Arlington, Houston, North Little Rock, Miami-Dade County, Seattle, Polk County, FL and Gadsden, AL.

Read more: http://techland.time.com/2012/04/23/faa-reveals-list-of-colleges-and-police-departments-that-can-fly-drones/#ixzz1svbVViOR

The Intersection of Privacy and Access…

This fascinating and informative post from the wonderful Citizen Media Law Project brings the latest in the ongoing saga of requests for police dashcam videos in Seattle, raising timely issues of law, technology and policing…

A must read.

Arkansas Supreme Court: Police Use-of-Force Records Are Public

Reports from police officers that explain why they use force against someone are not exempt from the state’s public record law, the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The opinion from the state’s highest court came months after an attorney, Keith Hall, requested use-of-force reports in the case of an off-duty police officer who allegedly hit his client outside a Little Rock restaurant.

When Hall didn’t get the records he asked for, he filed a petition against Little Rock Police Chief Stuart Thomas, claiming that Thomas violated the Freedom of Information Act.

Thomas argued that the reports are exempt from the public records law as employee-evaluation or job-performance records.

The matter made its way to a circuit court judge, who said the reports are not exempt from the public records law.

Thomas appealed that judge’s decision and the Supreme Court granted his request for a stay in the case.

In Thursday’s opinion written by Associate Justice Robert L. Brown, the Supreme Court sided with the lower court judge and said the use-of-force documents are public record.

Illinois Moves to Legalize WHat Already Ought to Be a No-Brainer: Recording Police at Work

Illinoisans would be allowed to make recordings of police officers in public under a bill that an Illinois House committee approved Wednesday.

Existing state law allows the audiotaping of a person only if both parties to the conversation give their consent. Videotaping doesn’t require consent, but only if there is no audio with the video.

The bill, HB 3944, now goes to the full House. It would allow “recording of a peace officer who is performing a public duty in a public place and speaking at a volume audible to the unassisted human ear.”

Most states allow audio recording of conversations with one-party consent — when any participant in a conversation gives consent to record it. A handful of states require consent from both parties to the conversation. Illinois requires consent from all parties to the conversation.

The Illinois law allows video recording with the sound turned off, as well as the audio recording of a distant event where the voices are not audible.

The Illinois law also has an exemption for news broadcasts. But with the Internet and blogs and YouTube, the line between citizens and journalists is blurring. And footage from citizens’ cellphones often ends up on the websites and broadcasts of large news organizations.

The Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police doesn’t necessarily oppose a change to let people record police activity, but it wants changes of their own, said the group’s lobbyist, Laimutis Nargelenas.

This Hassle-the-Photographer Crapola Is Getting Old…

Not really FOI, but hey, this is getting downright ridiculous:

A Las Vegas police officer detained a man for refusing to walk away after taking a photo of a movie set that was completely visible to the public.

The man video recorded his interaction, which doesn’t show the officer’s face or name, but allows us to clearly hear him trying to justify giving the photographeran unlawful order.

The photographer whose username is 1willwanders on Youtube, held his ground, asking the officer to cite him the law that would allow him to single out a person for taking photos on a public street, ordering him to walk away while countless other people are allowed to remain because they are not taking photos.

The officer was unable to do so. The photographer was allowed to walk away after more than two minutes of debating with the cop.

Photo of a police officer, Boston, USA

Image via Wikipedia

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The Kind of Reporting FOI Makes Possible….

Kudos to Milwaukee (Wis.) Journal Sentinel investigative reporter Gina Barton, whose excellent October 2011 three-part series “Both Sides of the Law” found that at least 93 Milwaukee police officers had been disciplined for violating laws and ordinances, but didn’t lose their jobs.

Barton said it took nearly two years of records requests, a court case, and $7,500 in fees to complete the story. Her findings made an impact in the local community — and with state legislators.

In such tough times for newsrooms, such work is particularly noteworthy. The dedication of time and resources here is impressive, and the results? Well, the speak for themselves. Check out the series here. And don’t miss this section, which contains the FOI saga and all of the primary source documents.

This is also powerful evidence of why internal complaint files must be public — and they are not in many states — and what lurks in the darkness when such records are kept secret.

Milwaukee Police Department

Image via Wikipedia

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Funny…dash cam videos are a public record about anywhere….but Oklahoma.

A Rogers County judge denied a request for the release of a dash cam video recorded by the Claremore Police Department, ruling that under the state’s Open Records Act, the footage is “not a public record.”

Associate District Judge Sheila Condren heard evidence in a nonjury trial in August, according to Tulsa World. Attorney Stephen Fabian was seeking the dash cam video and audio of 20-year-old Richard Stangland’s March arrest for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Arguing for its release, Fabian said that the Open Records Act necessitates the release of the footage. Matt Ballard, who represents the city, told the court that videotapes are evidentiary and subject to the privilege of confidentiality.

Condren ruled that “the Fabian case is distinguishable from the facts presented in the case at bar, and finds the ‘dash cam’ recording is not a public record pursuant to Title 51 O.S. (Section) 24A.8 which is subject to public inspection.”

FOI AT Work: Texas TV Station Obtains Police Chase Video

KLTV 7 has obtained dramatic dash-cam video of Smith County authorities chasing a man in a stolen Tyler police car.

After making numerous requests though the Freedom of Information Act, we were able to obtain the thirty-minute video of that May pursuit.

The chase started on Highway 155 in Noonday after 24-year-old Isaac Garcia attempted to rob two women before allegedly stealing a Tyler police car.

“We’ve impacted again,” said a Smith County deputy involved in the chase.

That was the moment where the chase began to heat-up. Police say Garcia was behind the wheel of the stolen patrol car.

“Oh, he is still west bound,” said the deputy. “He survived it.”

That was the second time police tried to get the car to pull over. About two minutes earlier, the video shows Garcia slamming into the median, barely escaping authorities.

With flashing red and blue lights on, Garcia was reportedly waving police to go around him.

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