The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland says it is contacting law enforcement agencies across Maryland and urging them to establish clear policies on the public's right to record police officers.
The announcement came as the group continues to battle the Baltimore Police Department in court over a 2010 incident in which a Howard County man says his cell-phone camera images were deleted after he filmed officers “roughing up” a female friend at the Preakness Stakes.
The Department of Justice has already asked a federal judge to side with the plaintiffs, saying police department policies were insufficient. It is believed to be the first time the Justice Department has weighed in on the issue, and the ACLU says other agencies should heed the advice.
“The federal government's selection of Maryland as the place to speak out in support of the First Amendment right to record police actions in public gives our law enforcement officials a unique opportunity to set a national example,” Deborah Jeon, the ACLU of Maryland's legal director, said in a statement.
The announcement came the same day that the ACLU in Washington reached a settlement with the Metropolitan Police Department. The agency agreed to draft new policies as a result of a case in which a man sued after being detained for taking photographs of a police traffic stop in Georgetown.
The Baltimore Police Department drafted similar revised general orders last fall and gave instruction to officers affirming the public’s right to record officers.
But the Justice Department said the policy did not go far enough, and ACLU officials said subsequent settlement talks in Christopher Sharp’s lawsuit over the Preakness incident have not been “fruitful.”
“We are now awaiting a formal answer from the BPD, and then moving into discovery” for a civil trial, said Meredith Curtis, an ACLU spokeswoman.
Police have disputed the ACLU's contention that what happened to Sharp constitutes a pattern within the department, and say that policy changes have been sufficient. Anthony Guglielmi, a police spokesman, said other cities have contacted Baltimore for guidance in drafting their own policies.
“The BPD is, to my knowledge, among a select few police departments in the nation that have promulgated a general order regarding the issue of video recording police activity,” wrote Deputy Commissioner John P. Skinner in a Nov. 14 sworn statement.
The city's Fraternal Order of Police chapter has expressed concern that the new efforts could jeopardize the safety of officers by emboldening people to get too close to, or involved with, arrests and investigations.
The issue of taping officers received widespread attention after a motorcyclist was arrested in 2010 for taping a state trooper who pulled him over in Harford County.
The motorcyclist prevailed in that case, and state police said they give training to new officers and have instructed veterans about the public’s recording rights. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said a formal policy was being developed.