Starting to see the same in Canada
We are starting to see the same attitude by police in some cities in Canada:
In Winnipeg this week an amateur photographer alleged police confiscated his camera's memory card when they detained him.
Both incidents highlight the way police respond to being caught on tape in a new technological reality.
The B.C. lawyer who helped Paul Pritchard get back his video of a Polish man who died after being repeatedly Tasered by Vancouver Mounties said the Winnipeg photographer has the option of taking the Winnipeg Police Service to court.
Paul Pearson said police face added scrutiny today because of the proliferation of cameras.
"It's much more timely and common because virtually everyone now is walking around with cameras in their pockets, because of cellphones."
He also said police should be open to the added attention.
"The police hold a special position in our country. They have special powers, they carry weapons, they can take people into custody, they can do all kinds of things... If they're in the public, they should be open, and not resistant, to being recorded."
One expert said a rush towards "video democracy" has accelerated since the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles in 1991.
"It only partly works because police often have a certain amount of power in controlling the situation if there is video footage and film out there that might make them look bad," said Aaron Doyle, a Carleton University sociology and anthropology professor, who has written on how technology influences policing.
In the Winnipeg case, amateur photographer Paul St. Laurent, 38, maintains that after he photographed police interacting with car theft suspect they Tasered and arrested Tuesday afternoon in Elmwood, a police officer beckoned him over for questioning.
St. Laurent said four officers surrounded him, questioned him about biker and gang ties, and lectured him about how taking photos was for professional media only.
St. Laurent said after about five minutes of questioning, police handcuffed him, put him in the back of a cruiser, and confiscated his Manitoba Liquor Control Commission identification card, digital camera and portable phone after removing the phone's battery in front of him.
St. Laurent said the camera was returned to him missing a memory card.
The police have said, repeatedly, they took no property from St. Laurent.
Pearson said St. Laurent should launch legal action as a last resort.
"Sometimes it takes the cleansing powers of the courts to try to get through some of these conflicts."
A motion in Queen's Bench could sort out "very conflicting evidence" presented by witnesses, St. Laurent and police.. Pearson said.
"If Mr. St. Laurent wants to get on a witness stand, put his hand on a Bible, and say 'That officer took a memory card from me,' it's going to take somebody else to say the exact opposite to refute that. It would be very interesting to see what the various stories are."
After the incident, a police spokesman said St. Laurent had breached an area where officers were investigating and that the photographer was being obstructive. They said he was detained for his own safety.
Residents from three Keenleyside Street homes interviewed separately by the Free Press Thursday said St. Laurent was at least 30 feet from where the suspect had already been handcuffed by police.
"All (the officer) had to do was just give it back to me... It comes down to my word against his," St. Laurent said.
He said Thursday he wasn't sure he can afford a lawyer to represent him. "I don't know if it's worth spending thousands of dollars to get a $30 chip back."
St. Laurent said he has filed a complaint with the Winnipeg police professional standards unit.
He said if he was in the same situation again, he would not take the photos, because he now understands that officers are afraid photos taken by civilians could be used by gang members to identify them and hurt them.
Officers told St. Laurent he could have accidentally identified a young offender -- which is forbidden by law. The man being Tasered was 21, but that was not known at the time.
Pearson also said getting in the way of police work is "totally unacceptable" and people should provide copies of photos or videos if police request them.
"The difference comes ... where their desire goes from access to exclusive access and suppression."
In the Vancouver airport incident Pritchard was a bystander who lent his footage to RCMP to copy, and then had to launch a legal battle to get it back.