Copwatch - a project of Peace and Justice Works


Site Navigation

About us
People's Police Report
Shootings & deaths
Cool links
Other Information
Contact info


Videographer's Suit Gets City to Change Policy on Taping Police
Citizens' Right to Tape Cops and Police "Big Brother" Technology Make Headlines

A number of issues surrounding videotaping police officers and civilians in public have recently surfaced, raising questions that could have impacts on cops, copwatchers, and civilians minding their own business. In September, Mike Tabor, an independent videographer who was cited for videotaping Portland police officers, filed suit against the City of Portland in order to clarify policy regarding people videotaping police actions. In early December, the City agreed to allow audio and videotaping of police in public, with a few exceptions. The suit had also named the two officers, Nick Ragona (#21430) and Dane Reister (#31663).

On March 27, Tabor video-taped Ragona and Reister stop, question, and search two men outside the Portland Art Museum. The video shows Tabor was a reasonable distance from the officers. After the two men were released, the officers approached Tabor and asked if he was recording audio. Tabor replied he was, whereupon the officers seized his video camera. He was issued a citation for violating ORS 165.540--Obtaining Contents of Communication, but his camera and tape were returned the same day after he complained to a Sergeant. The District Attorney later dropped the charges.

Tabor, who also goes by "Joe Anybody," filed a tort claim seeking $100 in nominal damages for emotional distress and the inconveniences caused to him. The City agreed to clarify its policy and not prosecute people under 165.540 simply because they videotape public police activity, such as stops and arrests, but stopped short of making rules about seizing video cameras. The lawsuit contended that enforcing the law against those who record police violates the First Amendment because it prevents recording matters of public concern and communicating that information to others. In 1991, then-Police Chief Tom Potter issued a training bulletin stating that ORS 165.540 does not prohibit the public from recording police activities in a public place.

Portland is not alone when it comes to police targeting videographers. Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now!", a nationally-syndicated TV and radio program, and two producers, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar, were arrested in St. Paul while covering street demonstrations at the Republican National Convention in September. To quell the demonstrations, police used pepper spray, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades, and arrested several dozen demonstrators and a photographer for the Associated Press. According to Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, Kouddous and Salazar were arrested on suspicion of rioting. For questioning their arrest, Goodman was charged with obstruction and interference with a peace officer (Twin Cities Indymedia, September 1).The charges were dropped, but as Goodman noted, "We never should have been arrested in the first place" (Alternet, September 19).

I-Witness Video, a New York-based collective that videotapes demonstrations to protect civil liberties, reported another story from the convention on September 4. St. Paul Police entered I- Witness Video's office carrying batons and a battering ram based on an unfounded report of hostages in the office. The police at first refused to leave even though it was obvious there was no "hostage" situation. As a result of the disruption caused by the police raid, the landlord evicted I- Witness Video.

Turning the tables, the Portland Police may now be watching you without your knowledge. The Bureau is testing a high-tech camera system on police cars that records the license plate of every car it passes, whether moving or parked. The camera is linked to a database of stolen and suspect- linked vehicles and triggers an alarm when such a vehicle is spotted. Using a GPS system, police can track the movement of vehicles around the city. About 300 police departments have patrol cars equipped with these systems. The one Portland patrol car equipped with the system has recovered seven stolen cars spotted by its camera. Jann Carson, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, raised concerns: "If the collection of the data was specifically tailored to the investigation of a crime, I don't think we would have any problem with that... But simply collecting information on where and when people are located, I think that's a real invasion of privacy" (Portland Tribune, October 9).

In an October 20 editorial relating to Tabor's case ("Big Brother is watching you watching Big Brother"), the Oregonian eerily quotes Chief Sizer, who says of technologies allowing officers to videotape suspects, "People need to remember that this changing technological window works both ways. The bigger issue for folks may be the emerging lack of privacy."

  People's Police Report

January, 2009
Also in PPR #46

Railroad Police Shoot Near Portland Cops
  • Cops Bragged About "Tackling" James Chasse
  • Shootings and Deaths In and Around Oregon

Lawsuit Changes Policy on Taping Police
Oversight Report Skewed for Public Relations
Review Board Holds Only 1 Hearing in 2009
Updates PPR 46
  • Racial Profiling Committee Dismissed
  • Cops Create Rules for "Secret List"
Sheriff Skipper Talks to Copwatch
  • Sheriff Jail Deaths, Sick Leave in Headlines
Sit/Lie Report: Sign Boards OK, Not People
  • Anti-Camping Update
Portland to Revive Prostitution Free Zones?
Chief Sizer Remains Bureau Head--For Now
Taser Danger: Portland Cases in the News
Family Settles Suit: Excessive Force in Raid
Rapping Back #46

Portland Copwatch
PO Box 42456
Portland, OR 97242
(503) 236-3065/ Incident Report Line (503) 321-5120
e-mail: copwatch@portlandcopwatch.org

Portland Copwatch is a grassroots, volunteer organization promoting police accountability through citizen action.

People's Police Report #46 Table of Contents
Back to Portland Copwatch home page
Peace and Justice Works home page
Back to top