Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Benchmark City Chief's meeting

Early this week, I was at the Overland Park, KS police department for a meeting of a group of chiefs. The Benchmark City Chiefs is a group of 20 cities whose police chiefs have been collaborating for the past 10 years to collect and share data on a variety of topics that don't show up in the FBI's annual crime statistics. We meet once a year to discuss our issues of mutual concern. Since this one was a short drive, I took advantage of the distance and attended in person. Fourteen chiefs were present, and representatives from the remaining cities.

I had placed an item on the agenda several weeks ago concerning public place video cameras for public safety. The place where we met, the Overland Park Police Department's Command and Control Center, was a perfect example of what I wanted to discuss. It is a pretty incredible facility, where scores of traffic cameras, private cameras (such as banks, malls, community centers) and a few public place City cameras can be monitored. Camera surveillance played a critical role in Overland Park's investigation last week of the abduction and murder of Kelsey Smith. Chief John Douglass gave us all a briefing on that case, and there were several other chiefs who had been involved in remarkably similar cases during their careers. Mine would be the 1992 abduction and murder of Candice Harms--certainly one of the most gut wrenching events of my years in police work.

Another major topic of discussion, which Chief Douglass had placed on the agenda, was officer integrity issues. To a person, all of the chiefs present had the same concerns, and held the same position on the critical importance of integrity in our work forces. We were all familiar with the case law, with the risks that breaches of integrity pose to crime victims and successful prosecutions. We all had difficult and similar situations to deal with in the recent past. I came away from the discussion feeling much better that I am firmly in the mainstream.

When your job requires difficult decisions, you often second guess yourself and question your own actions. Discussing these matters with your peers can be invaluable. While its very useful and valuable to have these discussions with your own staff, the buck really stops at the chiefs desk, and in some ways, you have to be in that position to fully appreciate the responsibility resting on your shoulders alone. Talking about these issues with a group of fellow chiefs in similar cities is a good reality check.


Mr. Wilson said...

Hi Chief,

You have mentioned video a couple times now. Could you craft a post on LPD's position re: video "surveillance" of police officers by individuals and/or the media? I have recently read about a number of cases nationwide (here's one example) in which individuals were arrested or otherwise harassed by police officers for the simple act of videotaping officers at work. What would happen to Joe Lincolnite if he were to videotape your officers? What is LPD's official policy?

Tom Casady said...

Mr. Wilson:

It is not illegal to videotape a police officer, unless the videotaping would be in violation of Nebraska's statute on Unlawful Intrusion.) Street-corner camera-toters would obviously not fall into this category.

It is, however, unlawful to fail to comply with a police officer's lawful order at the scene of an arrest, accident or investigation. It is also illegal to interfere with an officer making an arrest, and to obstruct a peace officer. Just because someone is using a video camera doesn't mean that they are not interfering, obstructing, or failing to comply.

As a practical matter, we instruct our officers that the mere act of taking photos of them (still or video) is not grounds for an arrest, unless the activity is objectively obstructing or interfering with their official duties. On about two occasions I can recall in the past 13 years, we've had just that: a camera-carrying person whose activity was interfering with officers duties. In one case it was bright video lights that were interfering with vision, in the second it was a photographer who was walking around inside an incident scene. In both cases, a warning and order preceded the arrest.

Still and video photography of police officers as they work in Lincoln happens with great frequency. Everyone these days seems to have a camera. It's something officers deal with on a daily basis--even when they are unaware of it.

The example you provided is from Pennsylvania, which appears to have recording and intercept laws quite different from Nebraska. here in Nebraska, it is not unlawful to record a conversation to which you are a party, and an oral conversation held under circumstances where a reasonable person would not have an expectation of privacy is fair game--such as a conversation by a police officer in a public place audible to those around him.

Zen said...

Thanks for clarifying that, Chief. I used to work on the Security team for HC and Dana and have had an interest in where some of these cases might be going.