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Hawaii looks to clarify the public’s right to film police

  • RECORDED BY ROBERT BILLAND

    Screenshot from a video where Jamie Kalani Rice faces a monk seal on a unnamed Nanakuli beach. HPD officer Ming Wang approaches and later arrests Rice.

Hawaii lawmakers are considering a bill to clarify the public’s right to photograph or film police officers.

The bill would make it clear that filming or photographing police in a public space isn’t against the law as long as it doesn’t prevent police from doing their jobs. The proposed law would ensure that someone filming police in public couldn’t be charged with obstructing government operations.

Taking photographs or videos of police officers is protected under the First Amendment if it’s in a public place and doesn’t interfere with law enforcements’ duties, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Despite the clarity of the law, we do continue to see incidences, unfortunately, of police officers ordering people to stop photographing them, and sometimes worse,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the ACLU.

Nationwide, there’s been a trend among several states to clarify the public’s right to film police. Last year, about four states including Colorado and Illinois passed new laws addressing the issue, said Richard Williams of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Hawaii bill comes after recent incidents involving Hawaii police officers caught on camera, including during domestic violence disputes.

Hawaii Sen. Gilbert Keith-Agaran said he introduced the bill after a publisher of a Maui newspaper was arrested when he allegedly filmed a traffic stop in 2012.

“It’s the one that was real for me since I know him, we read about it for months at a time as it worked its way through the process,” Keith-Agaran said. “That’s often what happens with some legislation — a lot of the ideas don’t occur in a vacuum, they occur because something happened to somebody real.”

But the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office was against the bill, saying it could create unintended consequences that would allow people to interfere with law enforcement as long as they’re taking a video or photograph.

Meanwhile, Cpt. John McCarthy of the Honolulu Police Department said the bill was unnecessary because filming police in public is already covered under the First Amendment.

“Anyone, whether a law enforcement officer or not, can be subject to being photographed or recorded in a public setting where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy,” McCarthy said.

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    • Actually agree with the cops in this case. It’s COVERED under the First Amendment. Why make other laws? The PROBLEM is cops that THINK they can tell people to stop filming in public or interfere with the filming. Police need REMEDIAL training…

        • Unions and democrats are getting out of control. what do lawmakers and law enforcement have to hide from the public?

      • Along with the police receiving annual refresher training of the meaning and intent of the First Amendment (as well as the Fourth Amendment as it pertains to unreasonable searches and seizures) there should also be a strong parallel public education program addressing scenarios when it is inadvisable to photograph or record police officers. I think we’ve all seen examples of, or heard about, the remarkably risky and just plain crazy lengths some people will go to obtain a viral-worthy picture or video.

        • Yes…a little mutual respect goes a long way. Unfortunately, society has shifted far from that these days

  • The Legislature most likely would screw it up. What could be more obvious than the right to film public actions of public officials, as long as the camera person doesn’t hinder the work? What is the need for clarification?

    • right, the general public can film, video police officers in public view conducting their business. There is no expectation to privacy by officers in uniform performing their duty….. that is a 1 amendment right for public upheld by Federal court. Just tells me how stupid legislature is…..and how we waste time and money.

    • It shouldn’t be, but some cops either don’t know or don’t care about the First Amendment. Keala can start restoring confidence in him if he starts reining in rogue cops, including himself.

    • Yes…there must be some serious lack of basic education within the department. Lots of what citizens CAN’T do but not enough on what they CAN do

  • it’s all about accountability. A videotape of a police officer should only show that officer following the law of the land, if that is what they are indeed doing. If a police officer is violating a citizen’s rights, videotaping the incident will show this, and corrective action can be taken. A police officer trying to stop a citizen from videotaping him should be disciplined, possibly to the extent of being fired or arrested.

  • As we have seen over and over, a small minority of unprofessional officers have used the excuse, “Your presence this close interferes with the investigation. Leave the area or I will arrest you.” Even when you are standing clear across the street.

    The few unprofessional officers out there just can’t stand it when someone else is filming them. Knowing once it goes on the net it is there forever.

    Law needs to be clear officers can’t make up excuses or threaten arrest just to get you out of the area.

  • “But the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office was against the bill, saying it could create unintended consequences that would allow people to interfere with law enforcement as long as they’re taking a video or photograph.”
    Is the HAGO not understanding the bill?
    “The bill would make it clear that filming or photographing police in a public space isn’t against the law as long as it DOESN’T prevent police from doing their jobs.”
    Sumting is wong wit dem.

  • HPD and AG office officials need to go back to school and get the civic lesson again…. Oh yea forgot!! This state or should i say this nation dont educate anyone anymore.
    They brainwash them… Back in the days of having Civic lesson in school…long time ago…

  • Adrenalin trumps logic and apparently training. Plus in this case the guy was a real jerk and got the police officer mad … he lost his temper and over reacted. He should have called for back up.

  • Aside from filming the police, I’ve always found it rude to film or photograph anyone or their property without asking for their consent first, as a common courtesy. Just because you “can”, it doesn’t mean you should. We would all be better off if we learned to mind our own business.

  • Cpt. John McCarthy is one of the brightest and most sensible officers I’ve ever met. (first met him in the 80s) He would be an excellent candidate for Chief of HPD.

  • Only way to get the truth from HPD is to have a record of the incident. HPD has proven time and again that they are not entirely trustworthy. They cover fellow officers’ DUIs, Domestic Violence incidents, and worst of all, band together to concoct their own version of a dispute. They were NEVER hired for their intelligence, rather their ability to be bullies.

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