Who doesn’t want to be a star? Sure we politely pooh-pooh the idea and modestly deny any desire to have a camera on us, but turn on that spotlight and next thing you know, we’re acting more dramatic than Lindsey Lohan during happy hour at the Viper Room. There’s something about the thought of being on camera that changes us. Maybe it’s in a crowded party where the second the camera light goes on people hold up their drinks and start screaming hoping to get their two seconds of YouTube fame. Or maybe it’s the chance to be seen jumping up and down behind a reporter doing a live broadcast about sea slugs in the Pacific. People just like to be on camera.
And cops? Yeah, we won’t admit it, but we’re not that much different. If we see the Channel 9 camera light go on, we suck in that gut to hide our breakfast double-double, hitch up our pants and slip into that “Yeah, check me out. I’m important here guarding this tree with the yellow tape around it” pose. Ten minutes later we’re texting our wives to tell them to DVR the news ‘cause we’re gonna be famous!
These days we are surrounded by cameras. A video is only a “hang up on Grandma” away. Initially after the Rodney King incident, cops feared anyone or anything holding a camera. We were certain that if there was a camera out, someone was going to use it to show how writing a simple parking ticket was actually us beating an 80-year-old nun. Now everyone has a camera and we have learned to accept that anything we do can, and will be, on the Internet within a few seconds. But you know what? It’s really not such a bad thing …
I saw someone getting arrested and I started to videotape it and the cop told me to keep moving along. Don’t I have the right to record the cops?
Generally there are no rules against you recording an incident you see on a public street. This even includes the police doing their jobs. Although it is always the sensational “Cop Tazes Grandma!” video that makes the evening news, there are a lot more videos of us doing the job “right” that never get shown. Apparently videos of us hugging puppies under a rainbow are too boring.
The only caveat to recording the police is that you can’t interfere with what they are doing. Getting too close or shining the camera lights on the officers can distract them from focusing on making the arrest or interviewing a person. This can put the citizen or officer at risk. At that time we can tell you to back up or to stop shining the light on us. If that happens, just take a few steps back or turn the light off.
As a side note, please keep in mind that often people will videotape us making an arrest or writing a ticket “to protect the citizen from the police.” That’s fine, but please realize that often this is an embarrassing situation for the person being arrested or cited. Having someone record them can make them feel even worse, so if they ask you to stop, try to respect that.
I had some items stolen and the police caught the guy and arrested him. I need my stuff back, but the police won’t return it. How do I get it back?
You may not believe it, but we really do not want to hold on to your favorite 8-track player and copies of the Village People’s Greatest Hits. Unfortunately, sometimes, if the items are evidence against the guy we arrested, we may have to hold on to them until he goes to court. For example, if your 8-track player has his fingerprints on it, we may need to actually show that in court and if we returned it to you, the fingerprints would be gone by the time we made it to court. So to preserve that evidence we will hold onto it. Usually we can work around that and get most property back to you as quickly as possible. If you really need it, ask to speak to the officer investigating the case and see what can be done to get it back to you.
And so ends another one of my ramblings. I hope you all are having a great year and if you run into a problem or are just curious about something involving the cops, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I am always glad to take time out from hugging puppies under that double rainbow to answer your questions. Take care and stay safe.
Got caught by a cop? Your party popped by the Po-Po? Ticked by a ticket? If you have questions, don’t let it eat away at you, Question Authority! E-mail me anytime at: QA@police.ucsb.edu or call UCSB PD at (805) 893-3446.