For the high crime of shooting video after a Suffolk police car chase last week, a freelance photojournalist was charged with obstruction of governmental administration. In his video, a sergeant repeatedly ordered him to leave the scene.
But Police Commissioner Richard Dormer asked District Attorney Thomas Spota's office to drop the charges. Dormer says that camera-fear is not systemic at crime scenes, but he's re-emphasizing the department's written policy on media relations by putting out a pamphlet for officers. He's also setting up several days of refresher training for his commanders. As to the sergeant, his case has been referred to internal affairs investigators.
The department's actions make sense, but the incident reinforces the impression that some police officers too often fear the camera's eye.
In a more encouraging development, many years after other jurisdictions, Suffolk cops are finally making video recordings of homicide interrogations. It took a while, partly because a defective recording in a Nassau case caused Dormer to make sure that wouldn't happen here.
Some cops have always worried that video makes it tougher to get confessions. But studies show that the recordings actually help get convictions, by making it harder for defense attorneys to persuade juries that a confession was coerced. And they can be a training tool to improve interrogation techniques.
Cops have many valid things to fear, but cameras shouldn't be one. hN