March 9th, 2012 | City

New bill would protect right to photograph cops

The Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford.
The Connecticut State Capitol building in Hartford. Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

The state legislature will hold a public hearing in Hartford next week on a bill to protect citizens’ right to film or photograph police officers on duty.

Sponsored by State Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, a Democrat who represents New Haven, the bill will give citizens a statutory right to sue if they are prevented from recording police officers’ activities. Looney told the New Haven Register he sponsored the bill in response to the 2009 arrest of Father James Manship, who was charged with interfering with an officer after recording police activity in an East Haven convenience store. But Looney said other incidents — including the New Haven Police Department’s October 2010 raid at Elevate Lounge, where officers threatened to arrest Yale students for recording the bust — also prompted the proposed legislation.

“The police need to be reminded that the public has a right to record what the police are doing,” Looney said.

This is the second time such a bill has come to the state legislature. Last year, a similar version of the bill made it through the Senate but failed towin passage in the House as some lawmakers objected to how the bill might impact the privacy rights of victims or interfere with police investigations. In this version of the bill proposed this year, a clause was added that permits police officers to prevent individuals from making a recording if it would interfere with an investigation, jeopardize the integrity of a crime scene or endanger the “privacy interests of any person, including a victim of a crime.”

Still, Douglas Fuchs, the police chief of Redding, Conn., and president of the state’s Police Chiefs Association, told the Register he’s concerned about the impact of the bill on the privacy of people who report crimes to the police.

“People call us all the time,” he said. “They certainly don’t need to fear that all of a sudden they’re going to be on YouTube.”

In New Haven, the right to use cell phones and other electronic devices to record officers on duty has been formalized under the NHPD’s “Video Recording of Police Activity by the Public” policy. That policy was implemented in late 2010 after both Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and then-NHPD Chief Frank Limon spoke out against the faulty training that led to officers’ threats to arrest students recording police activity during the Elevate raid.

Five students — four of them Yalies — were initially arrested in the raid of the Crown Street nightclub, but charges against all five had been dropped by last November.