An Albuquerque police officer first told a news videographer that he would not be allowed to continue filming an incident where the body of a motorcyclist remained trapped underneath a car this morning.
KOB-TV news videographer Jeremy Fine asserted his rights to continue shooting.
But Officer B. Arbogast, who himself was wearing a camera, insisted the victim’s privacy rights overrode Fine’s First Amendment rights to document a news story from a public sidewalk.
He tried to get Fine to move to a media staging area, but when Fine insisted on remaining where he was, he expanded the crime scene to prevent Fine from getting his shot.
“Cops can tell me where not to go but they can’t tell me where to go,” Fine said in a quick telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime this afternoon.
“The first cop said I could go to the staging area or I could stay where I was. The second cop told me I had to go to the staging area.”
Fine had a similar run-in with Albuquerque police in 2006 when he walked past a police cruiser to interview witnesses to a balloon crash. He was detained while all other citizens were allowed to walk past the cruiser.
Watching the video of a senior officer who should know better illustrates how important proper guidelines and training are regarding these issues.
It is neither a police officer’s duty or right to decide what is appropriate news coverage of any story. So long as news personnel are in a public forum and not violating any ordinances they have a right to gather news unfettered by the personal feelings or opinions of law enforcement. Anything less may be considered a form of prior restraint or censorship. It is all well and good that the police set-up a media staging area but that does not mean it is the only place that media are allowed to be. They can go wherever the public is allowed, which in this case is outside of the “crime scene” perimeter. To expand that area for the sole purpose to preventing photographs or video recording is not a reasonable time, place and manner restriction and limits more First Amendment protected activity than is necessary to achieve a governmental purpose.
This department would be well-advised to take a page from the Crime/disaster scene guidelines of San Diego Sheriff’s Department Media Guide, specifically:
Do not establish artificial barriers. For example, do not hold the press at bay a block from the crime scene, while allowing the general public to wander freely just beyond the crime scene tape.
Do not prevent the taking of pictures or interviews of person(s) in public places. The media, when legally present at an emergency scene, may photograph or report anything or interview anyone they observe.
Do not isolate the media outside the crime/incident scene unless the area has been secured to preserve evidence or their presence jeopardizes law enforcement operations.