On Wednesday, October 15 Max Bickford was riding a moped in downtown Boston when all of the sudden a plainclothes police officer chased a suspect into the street in front of him. The suspect was arrested stopping traffic. Bickford took out his cell phone and began to videotape the arrest. The officer told him to move out of the way which he did. In the video the officer is then seen grabbing Beckford’s phone and this is where the video ends. Bickford states that the officer then threw the phone on the ground breaking the face of it. He was placed in handcuffs and thrown to the ground himself. He was eventually released and given back his broken cell phone.
Bickford called the police station to lodge a complaint and was told by the lieutenant that the officer believed there may have been evidence on the cell phone. It is not illegal to videotape an arrest made in public. The police need a search warrant to seize and look into phones content.
The Boston police, as well as all police departments all over the country, need to start to get used to the idea that they can and will be videotaped in the performance of their duties in public. Large cities such as London have video cameras set up throughout the whole city which allows for surveillance from a main headquarters to provide Public Safety and evidence. It is about time that the police begin to use video surveillance to their own advantage. Many crimes have no witnesses but yet can’t be solved through surveillance video of a public area.
Some police departments are experimenting with police worn video cameras on their chest which records video and audio of the officer performing his duties.
This can provide evidence for the police and identification of the suspect; this can only help prove a criminal case. It will also keep the police honest. If the police truly want to avoid continuous complaints of police brutality or
mistreatment of civilians on the street by abusive police officers then why not agree to videotape their interactions with the public?
Video surveillance should become commonplace, it will help the police with their gathering of evidence and it will keep them honest in their dealings with the public in that any abusive behavior by rogue police officers will be captured on tape and can be used to get them off the force. Many fear the video surveillance of public areas may encroach upon a right to privacy. I am not advocating for video cameras to be placed in private areas or a position in which they encroach on anyone’s privacy. People who are in public areas such as streets or parks should expect that their behavior may be recorded. This can only help in protecting our streets. We can learn a lot from cities with advanced technology already in place such as London.
This will help cut down on the police over reaching their boundaries and violating people’s rights and will provide evidence of whether true probable cause exists for an arrest.
Right now police type up a police report with their version of the events and probable cause as to their actions without any evidence of what really took place on the street. A suspect is left to tell his side at a trial after having been arrested charged and gone through a lengthy court process waiting for his trial date in court. Rather than allow for a suspect to face criminal charges based solely on a version of events in a police report why not use video surveillance which is now affordable and in the form which can easily be used. All interviews of suspects should be audio taped yet they are still routinely not. Suspects give statements which are misconstrued and written in a report skewing what was truly said. Video capabilities are inexpensive and can be used by police departments without any consequence other than making themselves accountable for their actions.
Frank Fernandez is a criminal lawyer in Boston who serves all of Massachusetts.