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TMCNet:  Police: Citizens taping officers not a huge problem locally [The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.]

[February 27, 2011]

Police: Citizens taping officers not a huge problem locally [The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.]

(Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, MA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 27--A federal civil rights suit is taking aim at a decades-old law requiring consent from both parties before an audio recording of a conversation can be made.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire are two of about a dozen so-called "two-party" states where such dual consent is required.

On numerous occasions in recent months, police around the country have used such laws to arrest citizens using cell phones or video cameras to tape the activities of police officers.

It's a growing problem, since nearly everyone these days carries a cell phone, iPod or other device which can record video and audio; there's even an app for Android phones for recording encounters with police.

Here in Massachusetts, a man named Simon Glik was walking on Boston Common in October 2007 when he saw several Boston police officers arresting a man and using what he thought was excessive force. Glik pulled out his cell phone and began video taping the arrest.


Glik wound up being arrested himself when police asked if his phone had audio recording capability and he told them it did. He was charged with a violation of the state's wiretapping law, but the charges were later dismissed.

Glik filed suit last year in federal court alleging the police and the city of Boston had violated his civil rights. The defendants sought to have the suit dismissed, but a lower court denied their petition. Further arguments in the case are being scheduled.

Just last week in Weare, N.H., William Alleman, 51, of Weare, was arrested and charged with interception of oral communications prohibited -- the state's felony wiretapping law. The case stemmed from a July 10 traffic stop during which he allegedly made a recording of the officer without getting the officer's consent.

Alleman, who was not arrested during the stop, has said the charge was based on a cell phone call he made as the officer approached his vehicle. Police considered it wiretapping because the call was being recorded by a voicemail service without the officer's consent.

Weare police arrested two others in March 2010, one for video recording a traffic stop after her friends got pulled over, and the second person for video recording on a cell phone in the lobby of the Weare police station.

Local police not concerned The Eagle-Tribune's lawyer, Rob Bertsche of the Boston law firm Prince, Lobel, said the Glik case is important because it gets to the heart of the ability of citizens to monitor the conduct of government officials.

He said the court could find that the law is fine and keep it in place, or find that it is unconstitutional and against common law and strike down part or all of it.

"I think the case is about whether the First Amendment permits a citizen in a public place to audio record a public event involving public officials," Bertsche said. "That's why it is a compelling case." Local law enforcement officials don't seem too concerned about the audio and video taping controversy. Most say they tell their officers to act professionally and they won't have a problem.

Detective Lt. Paul Gallagher of the North Andover Police Department said his officers have encountered very few incidents over the years.

"If we have an issue, we tell the person it is a two-party state, and they usually shut off the audio recording," he said.

Gallagher said this has only occurred twice in the past several years.

But Methuen police Chief Joe Solomon said he thinks this is a growing issue because of the technology that is out there now.

He also warned that people might want to be careful what they wish for.

"If we go to a one-party state, it makes our job as law enforcement officers easier," Solomon said. "We now have this tool (audio recording) to help investigations." In general, police in Southern New Hampshire said it doesn't bother them if a resident suddenly pulls out a device, such as cell phone, and starts recording an encounter with police. In fact, it can actually work to the police department's advantage, Salem Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten said.

In April 2010, Salem police were called to Margarita's restaurant after a crowd became unruly during a wedding reception. The incident began after a Salem officer, working a police detail, asked a man attending the reception to leave because he was intoxicated and belligerent.

The man's friends and relatives became upset and confronted the officer, creating a commotion inside the restaurant and in the parking lot. Many of the people involved had also been drinking, police said.

At least 10 police officers responded to break up the dispute, prompting a guest at the reception to record the incident on a cell phone.

The video went viral after it was posted on YouTube under the headline "Margarita's Massacre." It showed police making arrests, including one officer who grabbed a woman by the elbow and turned her on her back on a couch to handcuff her.

The officer then said, "Get over there now or you're going, too." Five people were later convicted of disorderly conduct, fined $250 each and forced to pay restitution to the town.

"They went on such a rampage posting it on YouTube," Patten said. "We actually used the video they posted to help us. " An issue of safety Police did express some concern that the recording could become an issue of safety for the officers or the person doing the taping.

Haverhill's Deputy police Chief Donald Thompson said it could become a safety issue if a person is resisting arrest and another person runs up with a video camera and starts taping.

"They could be interfering with the arrest," he said.

Recording police responding to a call could also distract an officer and place the officer or someone else in jeopardy, said Kathleen Jones, Plaistow's deputy police chief.

"It's a safety issue and a little bit unnerving," she said. "It just puts a little more burden on the officer." New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Lawrence Bolduc said troopers are instructed on how to deal with situations where they may be recorded.

"There is a point where folks can cross the line and put us in a safety risk," he said. "If we feel there is something risking our safety, we address it and we try to address it respectfully." But Lawrence police Chief John Romero said the courts have made it very clear that police officers in the performance of their duty can be videotaped.

"That shouldn't be a concern," he said. "It's going to happen." Andover police Lt. James Hashem said police there don't see recording as an issue.

"Our officers are told they are professional, to act professional at all times, and to assume they are being recorded," he said.

Danville police Chief Wade Parsons said the recording of police officers is just a sign of the times.

"Cameras are all over the place these days," he said. "If you are doing your job right, you shouldn't have to be worried." To see more of The Eagle-Tribune or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.eagletribune.com/.

Copyright (c) 2011, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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