Let’s talk briefly about Senate Bill 2439, introduced by Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran, D–Kahului. It reaffirms the public’s right to record or photograph “a law enforcement officer while the officer is in the performance of the officer’s duties in a public place or under circumstances in which the officer has no reasonable expectation of privacy.”
Not too long ago, we would have simply said that such a bill, though nice, wasn’t necessary because in 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of the public to film police officers in public places. But then in February of this year, federal District Court Judge Mark Kearney ruled there was, in fact, no First Amendment right to film police officers (a ruling Washington Post columnist Radley Balko called “bizarre” in a Feb. 23 story).
Sigh. According to Hawaii News Now, Keith-Agaran stepped into this maelstrom of legal uncertainty by introducing SB 2439 because of MauiTime Publisher Tommy Russo’s arrest back in November 2012 for photographing Maui Police Officers on Haleakala Highway (a judge later threw out the case, though prosecutors have appealed the ruling).
“State Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran introduced the bill that reaffirms the public’s right to take video or pictures of police in public spaces,” Hawaii News Now reported on Apr. 21. “To underscore the need for the measure, he pointed to a 2012 incident, in which a Maui newspaper publisher was arrested for filming a traffic stop. ‘We wanted to make it clear that yeah, that’s something that you can do, so long as your [sic] not interfering with the actual operations of the police,’ said Kahele [sic], whose district includes Wailuku and Kahului.”
Given such uncertainty over what we feel is a genuine right of the public to hold law enforcement in check, bills like SB 2439 can help out. Of course, in terms of real law enforcement reform, the bill doesn’t come close to SB 3016–the bill we were really hoping would pass this session. That bill would have repealed “the confidentiality protection afforded under the Uniform Information Practices Act for certain information regarding misconduct of police officers that results in suspension.”
But it’s been bottled up in the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee–chaired by Keith-Agaran–since early February. Of course, given that similar bills have met that same fate in recent years, we weren’t holding out much hope this year, but it’s still a necessary and vital reform that needs to become law.
Photo of former Maui Police Officer Keith Taguma: MauiTime