NYPD Critics Hope to Reassert Oversight Power with ‘Right to Record’ Proposal

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Thursday's rally saw as much talk about a bill that had been shelved, the Right to Know Act, as the one being proposed, the Right to Record Act.

Roshan Abraham

Thursday’s rally saw as much talk about a bill that had been shelved, the Right to Know Act, as the one being proposed, the Right to Record Act.

A bill that would strengthen constitutional protections to film police officers was introduced at City Hall on Thursday, as supporters voiced growing criticism of Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for a recent back-room deal with Police Commissioner William Bratton.

City Council-members Jumaane Williams and Helen Rosenthal introduced the Right to Record Act, which describes specific behavior police officers allegedly use to intimidate citizens, codifying it as unlawful. Councilmembers Ydanis Rodriguez, Carlos Menchaca, Rosie Mendez and Inez Barron also spoke in favor of the bill.

Barron, whose district covers Brownsville and East New York, was among those critical of de Blasio and Mark-Viverito’s recent agreement with Commissioner Bratton to block the Right To Know Act, two bills that would bring long-sought reforms requiring police officers to identify themselves to citizens, in favor of reforms applied internally.

“We need to stand strong, we need to not buckle, and we need to make sure these bills are signed into law, all of it” Barron said.

Lumumba Bandele has worked for years to equip citizens with the tools to monitor police activity.


BkLive, July 12: Police critics discuss the right to record.

The Constitutional protections that the Right To Record act would strengthen are often violated by the NYPD, according to NYCLU advocacy director Johanna Miller. Miller says that broad constitutional protection without detailed local legislation to codify it makes it challenging for citizens to bring lawsuits to fruition.

“Under a constitutional claim, you would be trying to make a factual argument that your right was interfered with,” Miller says. Miller says that because the Constitution is not specific on what constitutes interference, citizens may have trouble proving in court that a police officer violated their rights.

“There’s not a list of objective types of behaviors that are banned under the Constitution, so that would make those arguments a little easier to bring,” Miller says.

The Right to Record law would specifically make it illegal for a police officer to threaten someone for filming them, interfere with filming, or stop, search, or frisk a citizen for filming. The law would allow citizens whose right to record has been interfered with to bring civil lawsuits against the police, allowing for punitive damages. It would also allow the plaintiff an easier path to compensation for attorney and expert fees.

The law would require more transparency and force officers to provide reports every 30 days identifying people issued summonses or arrested who were also filming during the encounter.

PBA President Patrick Lynch issued a statement on the bill on Thursday: “Civilians already have a constitutional right to record police officers, so this legislation serves no purpose other than to encourage activists to not only record but interfere with police activity.” Lynch said that the legislation would be helpful if it established a safe distance from which citizens could record.

Miller says that in addition to confiscating cameras or detaining citizens for filming, a common behavior is for police officers to shine a flashlight into a phone or camera, behavior that the proposed legislation would prohibit.

Miller was also critical of the deal to kill the Right to Know proposals, which she said suggests the deal demonstrates that Bratton effectively has veto power over the City Council, which should function as an oversight agency to keep police accountable.

Yul-San Liem, with Communities United for Police Reform, agreed. “If you look at many, many attempts to create change in the NYPD, we have a commissioner that doesn’t want it to happen, we have an entire department that doesn’t want it to happen, we have a mayor that’s supporting the commissioner. We have a speaker that is allying with the NYPD,” Liem said. “In spite of the fact that we have a mayor that came in on a police reform promise, we’re seeing that again and again.”

The mayor defended his deal with Bratton during a weekly call-in segment on WNYC with Brian Lehrer on Friday, saying, “I think the administrative route was the right route.” De Blasio said that working with the police commissioner lead to clearer guidelines on how to approach potential searches and communicate with the community.

  • JEng

    How doe that jibe with the Housing Court decision last year to prevent landlords from recording repairs within apartments without tenant consent?

    I have had tenants hit me and Don B Lee’s sister came downstairs with a woman who tried to hit my mother in the forehead repeatedly and we have it on film and we told his sister that we were recording and they didn’t care until I explained that her presence with this woman showed a connection to the assailant and she immediately put her hand on the woman who stopped wordlessly and they both turned and walked towards Canal Street perfectly calm.

    You can’t have rules that contradict one another depending on who would be protected by the camera.

    If they get this law passed – right to record already exists – then they should wipe the housing court ruling. We can’t protect ourselves even when we film everything and now that express law endangers us when we are inside a tenant’s apartment including the unit used by the family of my father’s murderers who were all members of Chinese organized crime – KMT triad – including Chan Wing Lok who gave the apartment as his post prison address to his FBI handler who came to the building to tell my mother that she was “renting to your husband’s murderer” as if she had any say in the matter.

    We need right to record to not exclude anyone from that right including landlords – it’ not fair to take that away from us. Even if it means it slightly inconveniences cronies like Don B Lee because 5C is such a hovel.