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Police department agrees to implement recording rights guidelines in settlement with videographer

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New York’s Suffolk County Police Department agreed to take new measures to instruct police on citizens’ recording rights in a…

New York’s Suffolk County Police Department agreed to take new measures to instruct police on citizens’ recording rights in a settlement following the arrest of a freelance videographer.

Phillip Datz, a videographer and member of the National Press Photographers Association, filed a complaint against Suffolk County Police in 2012 after an officer arrested him for obstruction of governmental administration because Datz filmed police activity while on a public street.

Before the case made it to trial in the U.S. District Court of New York, Datz and Suffolk County reached a settlement. Suffolk County agreed to develop resources on citizens’ recording rights and to pay Datz $200,000 to cover attorney’s fees and costs.

Because of the settlement, the department created a Police-Media Relations Committee and a training program to teach officers about recording rights in public.

Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said he was impressed by Suffolk County’s response, which includes an annual review and test of a media relations training video, to be taken by all sworn members of the police department.

After the officer arrested Datz in 2011, Datz immediately contacted Osterreicher, who wrote a letter to the department and met with police and local journalists to discuss recent arrests for recording police activity in public.

“[Suffolk County police] promised that they would work on this some more, but we believed the incidents continued to happen to Phil and other journalists,” Osterreicher said. “We believed it was really important to commence this lawsuit.”

Datz was represented by attorneys from the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the NPPA. Osterreicher said he had followed the case and provided feedback to Suffolk County as it created its guidelines and training.

Suffolk County’s new guidelines and training are strong compared to what other police departments have in place, Osterreicher said, and he hopes law enforcement agencies nationwide can look to it as a model.

“These incidents continue to happen on a daily basis throughout the country, and it’s going to take a cultural change in law enforcement before we see that stop,” Osterreicher said. “I think this is certainly a positive step in that direction.”

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· Police, Protesters and the Press