This is not a negotiation. Do I sound like I’m negotiating with you?”
When you hear those words spoken by a police officer, their intention seems unmistakable. They mean: “Do what I tell you or I’ll arrest you.”
This, indeed, is what happened when 23-year-old Andrew Flinchbaugh filmed the aftermath of a single-vehicle accident in Ocean County, N.J.
Flinchbaugh, who has contributed in the past to a local news Web site, claims he was given permission to film by those first on the scene. However, one police officer seems to have taken exception to Flinchbaugh’s presence.
Flinchbaugh posted a 10-minute video of the events to YouTube and the footage appears to show him cooperating, while refusing the police’s principal request: to give them his camera as “evidence.”
As NBC 10 reports, the police officer in question was a detective from the Ocean County prosecutor’s office. Though Flinchbaugh offered to give him a copy of the video, for reasons that are still unclear, the detective wanted the camera.
He believed it was his legal right to take the camera. When Flinchbaugh refused to give hand it over, the detective arrested him for allegedly obstructing administration of law.
“I refused because I believe that that’s our First Amendment right,” Flinchbaugh told NBC 10.
When the officer threatened him with arrest, the video shows that Flinchbaugh calmly said: “Then you’re going to have to place me under arrest.”
To this, the detective replied: “Don’t push me like that.”
It’s unclear why the detective was so concerned about Flinchbaugh’s camera. He certainly isn’t, though, the first to be suspicious of a member of the public filming. One San Diego police officer described a Samsung Galaxy as “a weapon.”
In some cases such as this, the authorities immediately defend the behavior of the officer. In this case, however, it is different.
Flinchbaugh and his camera were released. Moreover, Ocean County prosecutor Joseph Coronato told NBC 10: “It would be my opinion that we’ll probably be dismissing the charge.”
He added: “We never would have looked at the video without getting a search warrant and, based on our information, we didn’t have the legal right to get the search warrant at that point.”
There may be a personal element to this case, as the individual involved in the accident was reportedly another detective in the prosecutor’s office.
I have contacted the Ocean County prosecutor’s office to ask why the detective believed he had the right to seize the camera and will update, should I hear.
It isn’t the case that most police officers behave with excessive hubris. However, gadgets have become one of the centerpieces of today’s policing. Just as citizens film the police in action, so various forces are now experimenting with body cams.
Indeed, Salt Lake City police this weekend revealed body cam footage of an incident that ended with a police officer shooting dead a man who had allegedly been reported to the police as suspicious.
As KUTV reports, the police believe the footage “speaks for itself.” In Flinchbaugh’s case, that also appears to be true.
When it comes to filming the police in action, the Supreme Court is clear that, as long as you’re not obstructing the police in performing their duties, you can film.
When every member of the public is in possession of a camera, there is a greater probability of information emerging instantly. That may be what some police officers fear the most.
Chris Matyszczyk is an award-winning creative director who advises major corporations on content creation and marketing. He brings an irreverent, sarcastic, and sometimes ironic voice to the tech world.