There is a movement across the country where citizens visit publicly accessible areas to film and exercise their 1st amendment rights. The popular procedure not only educates the public but also government officials in the act of their duties. The videographers are required to stay in the publicly accessible areas and not enter any private spaces. Anything viewed from the public area is legal and allowed. You cannot trespass the eyes so that includes looking through windows or open doors. However, the lack of education often causes disturbances by public servants, security personnel, and police officers.
While filming they often visit City Halls, Police Departments, Post Offices, and Military Bases. If the government building provides services to the public and has a public entry, they will enter. If they are private, they will film from the sidewalk. While exercising their rights, they cannot be trespassed or touched. Since the procedure is protected under the 1st amendment, photography is not a crime nor can it be construed as being suspicious. Citizens have every right to film anything and everything in public view from a public place. They can also deny any request to answer questions as well as any requests to see their ID. No crime has been committed. They also don’t need to check-in, get permission, or apply for a permit to film. Policies are not law. Even though, it is not something you see everyday or you may not personally like to be on film, this right was given to us all for accountability, transparency, and the right to speak freely.
Recently, News Now Patrick, visited the Puyallup City Hall. The video encounter is posted below. There was a lack of education about public filming by the dispatch, staff, and the officer involved. Officer J Bennett interrupted his photography and stated Patrick was “freaking everyone out” working at the City Hall. Though not required, Patrick did try to say hi and shake the officers hand (and fist bump due to germs) but that was denied by the officer. He described it as “odd behavior” by Patrick and he was making the “whole floor feel weird”. The officer stated that he was there because Patrick’s “behavior was making people uncomfortable” and tried to shift the filming on him instead of the City Hall. The officer tried to place some control over his filming by even asking Patrick to maybe sit down. You can watch the video at the bottom of this article. Obviously, there was nothing this officer could do in this situation being a legal activity or he would have. The officer also failed to ID himself and it is his policy to ID when requested by the public. Especially when he makes the first contact.
Here is the issue and how this situation could of been handled better. First, dispatch should have asked some questions with the city employee/s who called the police to understand the situation better. Perhaps “Are they in private areas?” would have helped educate them from the start. The dispatch could have said that “it is legal to film them working and the public areas of the building – do you still need assistance?” Perhaps that would have ended it right there. That simply did not happen so it escalated the situation where several officers with guns arrived on the scene. Luckily, Officer J Bennett was educated enough about people filming in public and didn’t touch, ask for ID, or try to detain them for a legal activity. There are a lot of cases and videos where this goes really bad (detained illegally, arrested, battered, and even shot). Once Officer J Bennett arrived, he should have just seen they were filming and maybe asked their purpose. Though Patrick is not required to answer, you still can ask and there is no harm in that. Patrick even stated why he was there to the officer. That should have been the end of this interaction. After this, Bennett should have made contact with the employees who didn’t know the law and educated them about the first amendment, Patrick’s rights, and left the scene completely. A legal activity is not suspicious and hurting someones feelings who collects a paycheck by the public is simply too bad. Transparency is part of the job and if this job isn’t for you then you may want to consider getting a job in the private sector. All offices and buildings have cameras everywhere anyways. If the buildings camera makes me nervous – can I get those removed or call the police? As a city employee (or police officer), or any public citizen, you have not right to privacy. Anyone can be filmed in public. Sorry that is how the law works. If you want privacy, you need to go home and close the blinds.
The audit continued and Officer Bennett decide that he needed to stay on the scene and escort / follow Patrick around. Once investigating this non-criminal activity it would have been best to just leave the building or sit in his vehicle. The public is paying Bennett to look for criminal activity and catch criminals and the public pays him well. Spending time escorting and following around a citizen exercising his 1st amendment doesn’t apply and shouldn’t be acceptable. It just makes him and the Puyallup Police Department look bad and really is a waste of tax dollars. The public wants him working on the job not watching people who haven’t committed any crimes.
This 1st amendment audit should be used as an educational experience for the City of Puyallup. Not only about firming in public and people’s rights associated with that but also about being respectful to the people who technically are your boss and pay your salary. You are not above them and should always remember you work for the people.