The city of Atlanta and a watchdog citizen group, Copwatch of East Atlanta, who monitors the police reached an agreement last week in which the city agreed that it’s okay to take videos of police in public.
The settlement, which also calls for the city to pay $40,000 in damages, requires city council approval.
The agreement resolves a complaint filed by Marlon Kautz and Copwatch of East Atlanta, a group that films police activity with cell phones and hand-held cameras. The group has volunteers who go out on patrols and begin videotaping police activity when they come across it.
Last April, Kautz said, he pulled out his camera phone and began recording Atlanta police who were arresting a suspect in Little Five Points. Two officers approached him and said he had no right to be filming them, Kautz said. When Kautz refused to stop, one officer wrenched Kautz’s arm behind his back and yanked the camera out of his hands, he said.
Kautz said that when he asked to get his phone back, another officer said he’d return it only after Kautz gave him the password to the phone so he could delete the footage. When Kautz refused, police confiscated the phone, he said. When police returned it, Kautz said, the video images had been deleted, altered or damaged.
APD spokesman Carlos Campos said the matter had been referred to the Office of Professional Standards, and three officers were disciplined. The two officers who confronted Kautz — Mark Taylor and Anthony Kirkman — received oral admonishments for failing to take appropriate action. Sgt. Stephen Zygai was admonished for failure to supervise.
APD will also adopt an operating procedure that prohibits officers from interfering with citizens who are taping police activity, provided individuals recording the activity do not physically interfere with what the officers are doing. The policy is to be adopted within 30 days after the Atlanta city council approves the settlement, and training is to be carried out during police roll calls.
Although the Atlanta police department and the city of Atlanta came to this decision after being sued, it is still a great outcome. Recording the police is not a crime. It is every American citizen’s right. The more people realize this, the better off we’ll be and more police will think twice before crossing the line into abuse.