Filming police can be scary.
Just ask Beatriz Paez, who last month had her cellphone snatched and kicked by a U.S. Marshal who was apparently unhappy with her proximity to a police raid on reported biker gang members in her South Gate neighborhood earlier this month.
Paez's story might not have ever been told if it hadn't been for a neighbor who was also filming the action from the safety of her front window.
This week the ACLU announced it's deputizing all of y'all as part of a plan to ensure that more video cameras are rolling when police violate the law. The civil liberties organization yesterday rolled out its free Mobile Justice CA app for the Golden State, including Los Angeles.
Once opened and activated, the app will record and upload video to the ACLU's servers. If, later, you allege misconduct via a written report, which can be filed through the app, the organization will review the footage and act accordingly.
If something bad happens to you at the hands of law enforcement, having video sent to the ACLU gives victims "the weight of the ACLU behind them," says the organization's senior staff attorney, Peter Bibring.
"The law is very clear that people have the right to record police encounters in public," he said.
It's a great idea, but for now the app is intended mainly for bystanders, Bibring said. It would be difficult and perhaps dangerous to try to hold your phone up as you're being arrested or confronted.
"We're careful to caution people not to reach into their pocket suddenly for their phone," he said. "We caution potential suspects to tell police that's what they're doing" — filming cops.
Then there's the issue of privacy. Let's say your friend uses the app to film and report your arrest and the ACLU finds possible misconduct. You might think that the video is embarrassing.
But at the point, Bibring says, the footage is out of your hands, and the interest of justice would outweigh any claim to privacy. The ACLU maintains the right to release video.
"We're going to release video only where there's public value that outweighs privacy interests," he told us.
One radio talk show host yesterday asked the lawyer if the app contained a provision to report good conduct on the part of authorities. No, Bibring answered. It's not about that, any more than cops stopping you on the street is about praising your law-abiding ways.
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"It's a democracy," he said. "People need information."
The app can broadcast to nearby users that there's a police confrontation in their area. And the ACLU is working with community groups to get folks in minority areas to adopt the technology.
"It's video that stays in the hands of the community," he said.