‘Free-range’ parents plan to file lawsuit after police pick up children

Why do americans call “making sure their kids grow up as functioning members of society” “free-range kids”?

A D.C-based law firm will file suit and pursue “all legal remedies” to protect the rights of the Maryland parents whose two young children were taken into custody for more than five hours Sunday after someone reported them as they made their way home unsupervised from a Silver Spring park, the firm said Tuesday.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv were “rightfully outraged by the irresponsible actions” of Maryland Child Protective Services and Montgomery County police, said attorney Matthew Dowd, of the firm Wiley Rein, in a written statement.

“We must ask ourselves how we reached the point where a parent’s biggest fear is that government officials will literally seize our children off the streets as they walk in our neighborhoods,” he said.

Link (Washington Post)

State Legislators Pushing Bills To Shield Police Officers From Their Own Body Camera Recordings

Police accountability remains a major concern. Lawsuits alleging improper police conduct are filed seemingly nonstop. The Department of Justice continues to investigate police department afterpolice department for a variety of civil rights violations. More and more police departments are equipping body cameras on their officers in hopes of trimming down the number of complaints and lawsuits filed against them.

Meanwhile, the public has taken police accountability into its own hands, thanks to the steady march of technology — which has put a portable phone in almost every person’s hands, and put a camera inside most of those phones.

So, we have two entities viewing accountability from seemingly opposite directions. Over the years, many officers have made it clear through their actions that being filmed isn’t something they’re comfortable with. This has resulted in additional misconduct and abuse of existing laws to shut down recordings. But what are these officers going to do when a city council — or worse, a Memorandum of Understanding with the Justice Department — directs them to start generating their own recordings?

One answer has already been presented by the Denver Police Department. They simply won’t activate the cameras.

During a six-month trial run for body cameras in the Denver Police Department, only about one out of every four use-of-force incidents involving officers was recorded.

Cases where officers punched people, used pepper spray or Tasers, or struck people with batons were not recorded because officers failed to turn on cameras, technical malfunctions occurred or because the cameras were not distributed to enough people, according to a report released Tuesday by Denver’s independent monitor Nick Mitchell.

This is a case-by-case “solution,” self-applied as needed by certain officers. For other departments, it appears the imposition of recording devices will be greeted by legislation. Legislators cite “privacy concerns” but their bills do little more than hand law enforcement agencies full control over body camera recordings.

Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills to exempt video recordings of police encounters with citizens from state public records laws, or to limit what can be made public.

Their stated motive: preserving the privacy of people being videotaped, and saving considerable time and money that would need to be spent on public information requests as the technology quickly becomes widely used.

A small amount of redaction (face-blurring, etc.) would address the privacy concerns. After all, reality TV pioneer COPS has run for years with minimal privacy complaints and that’s all it’s ever used. As for the latter concern — expenses related to open records requests — there are ways to address this that won’t cede complete control to law enforcement agencies. Seattle’s Police Department worked with a local activist to find a solution that would provide footage, protect privacy and stay ahead of voluminous public records requests. Unfortunately, the result of these efforts has produced nothing more than extremely blurry footage in which everything is “redacted” by default.

Justifications offered by legislators try desperately to skew law enforcement’s total control of body camera footage as some sort of win for the general public.

“Public safety trumps transparency,” said Kansas state Sen. Greg Smith, a Republican. “It’s not trying to hide something. It’s making sure we’re not releasing information that’s going to get other people hurt.”

The problem is that if it’s the public being abused in these videos, there are very few options available to obtain recordings of misconduct.

The Kansas Senate voted 40-0 last month to exempt the recordings from the state’s open records act. Police would only have to release them to people who are the subject of the recordings and their representatives, and could charge them a viewing fee. Kansas police also would be able to release videos at their own discretion.

The “fix” for possibly overbroad public records requests includes a) making acquiring a recording unaffordable, even for the person on the receiving end of alleged abuse and b) allowing the Kansas police to push out a steady stream of exculpatory video. The latter of the two is perfectly acceptable, but only if it’s balanced by the public’s ability to obtain less-than-flattering video of interactions with police officers. Nothing about this bill makes the public any “safer,” no matter what Sen. Greg Smith says.

The potential for abuse of laws like these is so obvious even the cops can see it.

“I think it’s a fair concern and a fair criticism that people might cherry pick and release only the ones that show them in a favorable light,” said former Charlotte, North Carolina, police chief Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.

Arizona’s legislation goes even further than its Midwestern counterpart.

The bill declares that body camera recordings are not public records, and as such can be released only if the public interest “outweighs the interests of privacy or confidentiality or the best interests of the state.”

Not even the subject of the footage can demand a copy of the recording without somehow talking a judge into issuing an order for its release. Washington’s proposed legislation similarly exempts all body camera video from public examination and routes footage requests through the courts. In both cases, bill sponsors claim publicly-released video could be used for “criminal purposes,” but have yet to explain how a properly-redacted video would become a tool for “extortion” by “unscrupulous website owners.”

The attendant irony hypocrisy, of course, is that law enforcement agencies and local governments have declared arrest mugshots to be public records and have allowed “unscrupulous website owners” to post the shots and demand payment for their removal. But mugshots only involve members of the public, making them of lesser concern than footage that will also contain police officers. This sort of legislation is nothing more than the codification of a double standard, if that’s the motivation behind it.

On the other hand, some states are at least moving to ensure the general public can continue their unpaid police accountability efforts.

The Colorado bill, which you can read here, states that if a cop seizes a camera from a citizen without permission or a warrant or deliberately interferes with a citizen’s right to record by intimidation or destruction of the camera, the citizen is entitled to $15,000 in civil fees in addition to attorney fees.

This bill will help ensure at least one recording of an officer-involved incident remains intact, seeing as Denver police officers aren’t all that into capturing their end of these interactions.

Another bill in Texas which has not gotten nearly as much publicity comes from democratic representative Eric Johnson, which seeks to protect citizens from bullying officers as well as criminalize cops who confiscate cameras, only to destroy footage.

This pushes back against Texas Congressman Jason Villalba’s recently-introduced bill, which hopes to add a 25-foot no-recording “halo” around police officers at all times — stretching to 100 feet if the camera operator happens to be armed. Villalba has openly stated that “officer safety” is a greater concern than violated First Amendment rights, which would actually be criminalized if his bill passes.

California has also introduced a bill involving citizen recordings — one that will make an incredibly obvious statement into law… presumably because that’s the only way the state will get law enforcement to respect it.

In California, Senate Bill 411 would amend the state’s penal code to say that simply filming or taking a photograph of an officer performing his duty in a public place does not automatically amount to interference.

“Filming isn’t interference” would seem to be something that shouldn’t need to be inserted as an amendment to criminal statutes. As would the following, which is perhaps even moreinfuriatingly obvious than the sentence above:

Supporters say it protects the First Amendment and clarifies that filming alone does not give police officers probable cause to search or confiscate an individual’s property.

Undoubtedly, there will be law enforcement pushback against the proposed legislation, which should be referenced in the future as the “We Shouldn’t Even Need to Be Telling You This” Act, with “SMDH” as the short title.

Both sets of cameras will help increase law enforcement accountability, but one set is receiving the majority of proposed legislative protections. Shielding body camera recordings from the public eye limits their effectiveness as misconduct deterrents — the very reason they’ve been instituted.

Link (Techdirt)

 

Deployment of Controversial Urban Sensor System Aided by Aggressive Lobbying

“Is NYC’s new gunshot detection system recording private conversations?” asks Fusion in a recent story about ShotSpotter, a sensor technology currently being set up in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

ShotSpotter sensors use microphone and satellite technology to detect, locate and report gunshots to police. Critics worry that the microphones are prone to false alarms, and more troubling, appear to vacuum up street-level conversations in the neighborhoods where it has been installed. Evidence from conversations recorded by ShotSpotter microphones has been used to prosecute criminals in court.

While questions linger for watchdog and privacy groups about the use of ShotSpotter technology, an aggressive lobbying campaign has helped ensure the devices have been deployed in over 90 cities across the country.

The Ferguson Group, a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm, boasts that it secured more than $7 million in federal funding to support the purchase of ShotSpotter. “TFG has conversations with interested communities and discusses process and assesses viability of request [sic], drafts and provides briefing sheets to communities and submits requests to their House and Senate delegation,” reads a case study posted on The Ferguson Group’s website.

ShotSpotter contracts with four D.C. lobbying shops, including the powerhouse Squire Patton Boggs and the Raben Group, the firm that helps orchestrate Mayors Against Illegal Guns, an advocacy group closely aligned with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and various police unions across the country. The firm also has an array of local and state lobbyists on contract. In New York City, for instance, the company retained Greenberg Traurig in the past, and now works with a former aides to Sheldon Silver and Bloomberg through the firm Mercury Group Public Affairs.

The company’s approach is detailed in emails from Phil Dailly, Southeast Region Sales Director for ShotSpotter, to the City of Miami. Dailly references a supportive city resolution and lists viable funding mechanisms, including purchasing the technology through the Community Oriented Policing program, a special fund administered by the Department of Justice, or through police department asset forfeiture money, funds often raised through drug busts. Promotional materials also list the DOJ’s Justice Assistance Grant program, Public Housing Agencies and Community Benefit Funds as potential funding sources. The company retained two local lobbyists in Miami to help move the process along.

Link (The Intercept)

New homeowner selling house because he can’t get Comcast Internet

One unlucky man who bought a house that can’t get wired Internet service is reportedly selling the home just months after moving in.

Seth, a software engineer who works at home, bought a house in Kitsap County, Washington, after being told by multiple Comcast employees that he could buy the Internet service he needs to do his job, according to a detailed Consumerist article yesterday. Seth also wrote a lengthy account on his blog titled, “It’s Comcastic, or: I Accidentally Bought a House Without Cable.” (The man’s last name was not given.)

“Before we even made an offer [on the house], I placed two separate phone calls; one to Comcast Business, and one to Xfinity,” Seth wrote. “Both sales agents told me that service was available at the address. The Comcast Business agent even told me that a previous resident had already had service. So I believed them.”

That turned out to be untrue. After multiple visits from Comcast technicians, he says the company told him extending its network to his house would cost $60,000, of which he would have to pay an unspecified amount. But then Comcast allegedly pulled the offer.

“After about seven weeks of pointless install appointments, deleted orders, dead ends, and vague sky-high estimates, Comcast told him that it had decided to simply not do the extension,” according to the Consumerist story. “The company wouldn’t even listen to Seth’s offers to pay for a good chunk of the cost.”

We contacted Comcast to get more details last night but haven’t heard back.

After getting nowhere with Comcast, Seth tried getting DSL Internet from CenturyLink, which told him it could provide service of up to 10Mbps.

“After that very first Comcast tech told Seth there was no cable infrastructure to his house, he contacted CenturyLink. The company promised to get him hooked up right away,” Consumerist wrote. “But then the next day he got a call informing him that his area was in ‘Permanent Exhaust’ and that CenturyLink wouldn’t be adding new customers. Of course, that didn’t stop CenturyLink from billing Seth more than $100 for service he never received and will never be able to receive. Seth then had to convince someone with CenturyLink’s billing department to zero out the account that should have never been opened.”

Besides Comcast and CenturyLink, the Kitsap Public Utility District operates a gigabit fiber network that passes near Seth’s house, Consumerist wrote. “So why can’t he just get his service from the county? Because Washington is one of the half-dozen states that forbids municipal broadband providers from selling service directly to consumers,” the article said.

Nationwide, about 20 states impose limits on municipal broadband in order to protect private Internet providers from competition. The Federal Communications Commission voted to preempt such laws in Tennessee and North Carolina after receiving petitions from municipal providers in those states but is facing a lawsuit over the decision.

Link (Ars Technica)