Editorial: Strengthen the right to record police

From The Denver Post:  Officer Michael T. Slager is being charged with murder for the appalling shooting of an unarmed black man in North Charleston, S.C., for one reason only: The incident was caught on video by a nearby citizen. Otherwise Slager’s version of events would either have been accepted or, in all probability, clouded the truth enough to keep this killer from spending a day in prison.

The video’s importance is hardly a news flash, of course, and we mention it only by way of underscoring how critical it is that recordings of police encounters with civilians — all kinds of recordings — be encouraged and protected, including in Colorado.

Denver police and other departments are in the process of experimenting with body cameras for officers, which could become a critical check on disputed claims offered by police or citizens. Denver’s pilot program, which has logged more than six months in the field, shows great promise despite flaws outlined in a recent report by the city’s independent monitor.

The other side of the video equation is of course citizen recordings of the sort released in North Charleston. The good news is that courts in recent years have largely affirmed a citizen’s right under the First Amendment to record police behavior — or anything else — in a public location. And attempts by police and municipal officials around the country to suppress or even outlaw such recordings have greatly subsided since the early days of smartphones and tablets.

Nevertheless, incidents still occur in which police admonish or threaten those filming them, or even seize the recording device.

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