Lawmakers seek to make clear public's right to film officers

Lawmakers seek to make clear public's right to film officers

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As more and more officers are recorded on camera, state lawmakers are supporting a bill that would make it clear the public has the right to film police.

The Constitution already protects the right to film in public, but ACLU Hawaii officials say they get a number of complaints from individuals who say police are interfering with that right.

They're calling the bill before lawmakers a symbolic but necessary reminder.

ACLU says police aren't allowed to ask the public to stop videotaping them and can't threaten to take their recording.

"You have a First Amendment right to film law enforcement while in the capacity of their duties if you are in a public place that you are legally entitled to be," said Mandy Finlay, ACLU of Hawaii advocacy coordinator.

State Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran introduced the bill that reaffirms the public's right to take video or pictures of police in public spaces.

To underscore the need for the measure, he pointed to a 2012 incident, in which a Maui newspaper publisher was arrested for filming a traffic stop.

"We wanted to make it clear that yeah, that's something that you can do, so long as your not interfering with the actual operations of the police," said Kahele, whose district includes Wailuku and Kahului.

The Honolulu Police Department is opposing the bill, saying it's unnecessary because filming police in public is protected by the Constitution.

The department has also testified against a measure that would establish requirements for body and vehicle cameras for all county police departments. Supporters say the measure is necessary tool to ensure greater transparency and accountability, but says balancing public interest in disclosure against privacy issues of those on camera isn't the only concern. Another priority, they say, is who has the right to see the footage.

"That's a critical aspect to any body camera legislation is to provide the public some access to the footage," said Brian Black, executive director of the Civil Beat Law Center for Public Interest. "The tricky part of it is to balance the privacy interests that are involved with the people who appear in the videos."

Both measures are in conference committees at the state Legislature, which means lawmakers are trying to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions. They have until the end of next week to pass out final versions of the bills.

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