Washington DC's police chief Cathy Lanier has issued a general order that explains the public's constitutional right to photograph and record and gives officers detailed instructions for how to respect this right. The order, as first reported by Legal Times, is part of a settlement in the case of Jerome Vorus, who claims to have been wrongly detained after photographing the police at a traffic stop in June 2010. Vorus sued with the help of the ACLU, reached a settlement, and filed a voluntary dismissal of the case yesterday.
In May, the US Department of Justice reprimanded the Baltimore Police Department for insufficiently defending the rights of citizens, and said that the police department needed a policy to further educate officers on first amendment rights and provide guidance on how best to respect them. Lanier's order does exactly that — it outlines specific rights and tells officers, for example, that they cannot ask individuals to stop recording, detain individuals, or even block cameras. The order also says that police officers cannot seize cameras without the permission and supervision of a commanding officer, and cannot view files on device without a warrant. After evidence has been collected, cameras must be returned with all files intact.
Even if the police chief's hand was forced by the settlement in the Vorus case and as a result of pressure from the Department of Justice, it is now Lanier's responsibility to enforce this order. Although this policy is an important step, it's up to the authorities to actually enforce and protect these first amendment rights, despite the reluctance of some officers to be recorded.