Imagine if a Department of Public Works employee trashes your mailbox while snowplowing and he or she is arrested for vandalism, fined and has to do some jail time.
That’s pretty much the same premise behind an ordinance proposed by Councilman Bob Doherty, D-District 4, that would make it a crime for police to prohibit the public from photographing or videotaping an officer’s activities. The punishment for doing such, according to Doherty, would carry a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail sentence up to 15 days, according to Doherty, chair of the Public Safety Committee.
For starters, police officers work for the city so if the officer is charged – and a cop is innocent until proven guilty just like anyone else – he or she is indemnified and the city has to represent them. And if the officer is found guilty, the city would be responsible for paying the fine. Who does the city pay the fine too … itself?
Also, according to the City Charter, any ordinance passed by the Council “shall be punishable as a misdemeanor by a fine not exceeding $1,000 or imprisonment for not more than one year or both, or as a violation by a fine not exceeding $250 or by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 15 days, or both.”
So, if Doherty does implement his ordinance as proposed, first he would need to change the Charter.
In addition to the local issues, there are numerous federal court cases that already give the public the right to photograph or videotape police officers so long as doing so does not interfere with the officers’ duties. Officers are fair game just like anyone else on a public street or a public gathering spot. A law prohibiting police officers from doing something that is already prohibited is duplicitous at best.
Capt. John Cooney called the ordinance an "insult." I'm sure other officers are calling it much worse, and rightly so.
Obviously, Doherty is catering to the large contingent of Troy that came out strong against the police in the wake of the Jan. 25 melee at Kokopellis. Many residents claim there police used excessive force and have used excessive force for years particularly against minorities. He also pointed to two other cases – James Foley who settled his brutality suit for $90,000, and Brian Houle, whose civil suit is still pending.
The melee did highlight problems between police and the community, but as an elected member of the Council, Doherty should work to bridge the gap and not ostracize or insult one side or another as he is clearly doing with this inane, useless ordinance.