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Office of Police Complaints Welcomes New MPD General Order

Friday, July 27, 2012

(Washington, DC) The District of Columbia’s Office of Police Complaints (OPC) is pleased with the Metropolitan Police Department’s (MPD) recent issuance of a general order that explicitly recognizes a person’s right to videotape or photograph officers who are performing their jobs in public.

The MPD order went into effect on July 19, 2012.  It reminds officers that a person “has the right under the First Amendment to observe and record members in the public discharge of their duties.”  The six-page document also states that “a bystander has the same right to take photographs or make recordings as a member of the media, as long as the bystander has a legal right to be present where he or she is located.”

In a 2010 decision, OPC sustained allegations of harassment and unnecessary force against an MPD officer who attempted to prevent a woman from videotaping the officer in public.  The woman and her friend, both advocates for the homeless, were initially attempting to document and videotape city workers removing a homeless person’s belongings from public property.  When the officer approached the woman, she began filming the officer, who then repeatedly swatted at the camera that the woman was holding.  During the encounter, the officer also pushed the woman’s friend.  An OPC hearing examiner concluded that the officer had engaged in police misconduct by, among other things, trying to prevent the woman from lawfully videotaping the officer and the incident.

“In recent years, our agency has received a number of citizen complaints where this issue comes up,” said Philip K. Eure, executive director of OPC.  “The new MPD general order and OPC’s work in this area affirm the public’s First Amendment right to photograph or videotape police officers performing their jobs in public.”

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