Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Every phone is a camera

…these days, and I have frequently warned people that the chances are pretty good that if you do something dumb in public (and sometimes in private) you ought not be surprised if it comes back to haunt you when you are least expecting it.

This warning pertains to police officers, too.  I ran across this controversy in St. Louis.  Police officers should never retain their own “collection” of interesting evidentiary photos they have acquired on the job.  This has been a problem from time to time, and with digital imaging and the ubiquitous cell phone camera, it has the potential to become an issue today than it has in the past. 

Years ago, a police officer could use his or her own 35 MM camera to take a photo, then tag in the film as evidence. It was never retained on the camera itself, the film was not developed by the officer, and the negative was in the custody of the police department.  This is not the case with digital images, hence, it is best to refrain from using personal cameras to take evidentiary photos at work.


Anonymous said...

Something tells me this was not an evidentiary photo.

Here as is the case with all social media, once you put it out there you have no control of where it goes or who gets to see it. And it will always be traced back to the originator.

Car 54

Anonymous said...

I'd just mention the word "professionalism". I also bet it's a bit easier to be hired by the STLPD than it is to be hired at LPD. As you've stated before, quality attracts quality. The other side of that is that lower quality also attracts lower quality.

As a trivia bit, isn't STL's murder rate something like 18-20x that of Lincoln? No, that's not East STL, which has a murder rate over double that of STL, somewhere in the 80+/100K range.

Tom Casady said...


I don't have any reason to believe that. A critical lapse of judgement can happen in any department, and my purpose for posting this was not to impugn St. Louis, rather I was hoping to forewarn other police officers of the hazard of collecting or disseminating photos collected at incident scenes.

Anonymous said...

what are the laws regarding the taping of someone in public or at work? is it harrassment? can I subpeona their phone to find where that video went?

Anonymous said...

To Anon 11:57 - St. Louis is approx 15 times as large as Lincoln (3 million in metro area), so the increased numbers are expected. Plus, I doubt it's any easier to get hired by STLPD. Most PD's operate about the same. A SWAT officer took a cell phone pic of something most people never have to deal with seeing in their natural lives. Not much different than a patrol officer taking a photo of a bad car vs. motorcycle wreck, or the media taking a photo of the same. We are all only human, and chosen to do a job that forces us to deal with some tragic stuff - unfortunately, sometimes the callousness that becomes necessary to function in the environment which we are in nightly, makes snapping a pic of a dead body seem not much different than taking the photo of the deer, or a fish they caught.
More of a "holy crap, that really happened" kind of moment, memorialized with a picture. With that being said, sending that picture out into cyberspace, is a big lapse in judgement.

Anonymous said...

Amen @ 1:57! Some of the stuff that is seen by LEO's is not to be believed and THAT is the main reason we don't disseminate those types of photos.

Anonymous said...


"St. Louis is approx 15 times as large as Lincoln (3 million in metro area), so the increased numbers are expected"

No, I didn't say the number of murders was higher, although it is - I said the murder RATE is 18-20x higher. Reading is fundamental.

Anonymous said...


Are there now enough LPD-property digital cameras to go around, or are you still sometimes ferrying them to where they are needed, similar to PBTs?

Tom Casady said...

1:58 and 4:07,

These data are for the CITY of St. Louis, not the metropolitan area, from the most recent edition of the FBI uniform crime reports.

2009 Population: 355,208
2009 Murders: 143
2009 Murder Rate: 40.26 per 100K

For Lincoln:

2009 Population: 254,438
2009 Murders: 4
2009 Murder Rate: 1.57 per 100K


Standard issue now.

Anonymous said...


Thanks, that's ~25x (twenty-five times) our rate; it's even worse than I thought in STL.

Anonymous said...

The advent of ambiguous cameras not controlled by law enforcement has become one of the best was for citizens to protect them self from unjust prosecution and hold law enforcement accountable of there action.

Anonymous said...

I'm under the understanding that Nebraska is a one parity consent state (it can be you) and being in public there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.


86-290. Unlawful acts; penalty.

(c) It is not unlawful under sections 86-271 to 86-295 for a person not acting under color of law to intercept a wire, electronic, or oral communication when such person is a party to the communication or when one of the parties to the communication has given prior consent to such interception unless such communication is intercepted for the purpose of committing any criminal or tortious act in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States or of any state.

David Bratzer said...

"Some media outlets received copies of the photo but did not use it."

I'm sure media outlets don't hear this often, but I would like to say THANK YOU to them for doing the right thing in what is likely a very competitive market.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you. There are millions of law enforcement interactions with the public annually. Ambiguous cameras record thousands of those interactions. And every year there are about two cases captured where officers acted badly. Thanks to the watchdogs.


Anonymous said...

yep only two a year...

I think the Chief has a better understanding of how this is a game changing technology more than you do Mr. "10:57 AM"

"According to Fitchette, when she refused to stop taking video, the officers grabbed her off the bus.. "

WEST POINT, Ga: Chief Admits Officers Used Excessive Force

DETROIT -- Detroit officials who were backstage at a concert featuring hip-hop stars Dr. Dre and Eminem had no right to privacy when they confronted organizers in a videotaped...

Videotaped confrontation between LAPD officer, photographer prompts probe.