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Right to Record Police Upheld by New California Law

California's cops were confiscating cameras and even arresting people who were recording their actions

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By Steven Greenhut
When I was covering the Republican National Convention in 2004, New York City police cast the widest nets — literally, orange nets — to nab some rambunctious protesters. Some news photographers and other journalists were caught up in those nets, also. They eventually were freed, only after spending hours in filthy, makeshift holding areas.

New York City ultimately paid $18 million to settle the resulting civil-rights lawsuits. But I remember seeing some of this take place and realizing how deeply this chilled the reporters' ability to cover the news of the day.

I thought of this as legislators this year debated a bill by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, that makes it legally clear journalists and citizens with cameras (and cell phones) have every right to record the activities of police officials as long as they are in a public place — and aren't actually interfering with officers doing their job.

Obviously, it was wrong for New York cops to arrest photojournalists. It's also wrong for California police to do what they often have done — confiscate the cameras and even arrest people who are recording the actions of their public servants operating in public spaces. SB 411, which was on Aug. 11 signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, removes any doubts. The bill was long overdue.

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