The Ohio Patrolmen's Benevolent Association (O.P.B.A)

Policing in the Age of YouTube

Ordinary citizens are increasingly using video cameras and cell phones to record police officers carrying out their duties in public. These videos are then posted on websites such as YouTube and Facebook. All across the country, the media is reporting on citizen-created videos depicting law enforcement officers in a less than flattering light.

Filming of police officers will continue to increase due to the availability of recording equipment and the efforts of civil rights groups, which are encouraging ordinary citizens to tape-record “police misconduct.” For example, the ACLU launched an online reporting system allowing citizens to send their audio and video recordings directly to the ACLU. In addition, a nationwide watchdog group called Copwatch, which began in California in 1990, encourages its group members to videotape law enforcement officers.

An important issue for law enforcement to consider is what to do when faced with a citizen armed with a recording device. Certainly, being recorded conducting work that is often dangerous is more than a slight annoyance. Citizen videographers can present a hindrance at best and a safety threat at worst. However, preventing such recording is not without its consequences.

Although it is clear that the right to film is not without limitations and may be subject to some restrictions, officers should operate under the assumption that citizens have the right to record public police activity. Unless the citizen is truly interfering with a legitimate police activity or compromising an undercover investigation, the citizen has the right to create video and audio recordings of the police.

There have been many recent attention-grabbing media reports on tactics used by law enforcement to stop citizens from recording and posting these videos. For example, some officers arrest and prosecute citizens using wiretap statutes in states that require consent of all involved parties. In jurisdictions without wiretap laws, officers have charged citizens with Tampering with Evidence, a charge that is just as meaningless. Some officers have resorted to seizing the recording device as evidence or even destroying the recording. These tactics, however, have proven ineffective and only serve to portray the officer as vindictive and unreasonable. Furthermore, a recent court decision clearly demonstrates that citizens have a First Amendment right to film law enforcement officers in the discharge of their duties in a public space, and if an officer arrests a citizen without probable cause for exercising that right, that officer is not entitled to qualified immunity for violating the citizen’s rights under the First and Fourth Amendments.

In Glik v. Cunniffe, the First Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that filming government officials, including law enforcement officers, who are engaged in the performance of their duties in a public place fits comfortably within the principles of activity protected by the First Amendment. The Court explained that law enforcement officers are expected to endure significant burdens caused by citizens’ employment of their First Amendment rights. Therefore, police officers are expected to use the same restraint when “they are merely the subject of videotaping that memorializes, without impairing, their work in public spaces” as when citizens use provocative and challenging speech.

Police departments must be prepared to address citizen-made videos to the media and place them in the proper context. Recent citizen-made videos broadcast on the news and posted on YouTube highlight the limited perspective of these videos. There is always activity that occurs before and after what is captured on the video, the absence of which can drastically alter the recording’s meaning.

Advances in technology and the protections of the First Amendment guarantee these videos will continue to proliferate, and police officers must unfortunately expect to be filmed by citizens. Therefore, law enforcement officers should operate with the understanding that citizens have a First Amendment right to film them in the discharge of their duties in a public space, subject to time, manner and place restrictions. Law enforcement officers should also know that if they arrest a citizen without probable cause simply for videotaping an officer, the arresting officer will not be entitled to qualified immunity.

Sherri Bevan Walsh is Summit County Prosecuting Attorney.



Even with the polls showing a 20+ point lead, on the days proceeding November 8th I was not completely confident of victory. On election night Jeff Pedicino and OPBA attorney Joe Hegedus attended the gathering in Columbus to watch the results and Executive board members Tom Austin, Brian Johnston, OPBA attorneys Mike Hostler and Max Rieker and I attended the election night watch party at the Cleveland Airport which was sponsored by “We Are Ohio” and the Cleveland Teachers Union. Our guest was NAPO President and Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association President Tom Nee.

The ballroom was full and people were in the hallway waiting for the results. Shortly after 9:00 PM with the “NO” votes leading by a 2-1 margin 66% to 33%, they announced victory.

This victory sent an important message to Governor Kasich and those who believed that middle class workers in the public sector were responsible for the financial crisis in Ohio.

The voters were able to see thru the rhetoric of false and misleading information disseminated by our opponents. For those who believe that those of us in law enforcement should not get involved in politics this should be a warning that we cannot allow our elected officials to dictate policies that affect our lives without a fight.

Last month Members of the Executive Board met in Madison, Wisconsin for the Mid-States Conference. Present were leaders from police organizations from Ohio, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Iowa and Montana. The topic of discussion was the attack on collective bargaining.

At the NAPO Conference this year the topic was discussed and NAPO President Tom Nee felt that there was not enough time allotted for this important issue which affects many state organizations. President Nee persuaded the National Association of Police Organizations to host a two day conference in Orlando Florida concerning collective bargaining for states where it is threatened.

One hundred twenty-five Executive Board members from police organizations across the nation attended. I was asked to give a presentation of the process and undertakings of our fight. Everyone was supportive and was aware that the results would greatly affect their states and organizations. The Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) rescinded an invitation to a Presidential candidate Mitt Romney as an honored guest to speak at their State Convention due to his endorsement of Ohio’s Governor for Issue #2.

Thank You to members who helped collect 1.3 million signatures in the referendum petition drive and to those who volunteered canvassing neighborhoods and manning the phone banks.

Thanks to “We Are Ohio” for a great campaign and to the workers from surrounding states that came to our aid to canvass neighborhoods in Ohio.

Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association President Steve Loomis stated at a press conference “Thanks to Governor Kasich for uniting us altogether”.


Where does the money come from?

We all know the famous line from the movie Jerry Maguire: “Show Me the Money”. In negotiations, the OPBA utilizes public records requests to get the basic financial status of the opposition. A large amount of money comes from the State as “local Government Funds”. However, since Governor Kasich and his cronies have taken office, the reductions to Ohio’s Local Government Funds and, more importantly, the threats of further cuts in this program have created a nightmare.

The Governor’s budget, coupled with the initiation of the SB5 debacle, has resulted in the State bullying local governments with reductions to their share of the State’s sales tax receipts. The Local Government Funds, hereafter referred to as the LGF was established in 1934 (the height of the Great Depression) as a part of the State’s new sales tax law. Local Governments need money and they need it now. Of the monies collected the first year, 40% was returned to the Local Governments. The other 60% went to the local schools.

Needless to say, most local officials were not in favor of a new tax, but a new income stream was desperately needed. The new sales tax was the answer for providing that much needed income, so the tax became law. In a nut shell, the local government collects the sales tax from vendors. They send the money to the State, which in turn returns the monies to local governments based on population and need. There is, (or was), a formula in place for how the monies are to be distributed to the local Governments.

Subsequently, the Local Government Revenue Assistance Fund (“LGRAF”) and the Library and Local Government Support Fund (“LLGSF”) was created to distribute even more funds back to Local Governments. The LGF and the LGRAF are used by counties, townships, cities and villages for current operating expenses like police and fire. Additionally, the sources of these funds have expanded to include a specified amount of the personal income tax, use tax, corporation franchise tax and the public utility excise tax.

Every day, we hear comparisons of our current economy to the Great Depression. So, I ask the Governor why he would take legislation, which was created to help local governments in an economic downturn, flip it on its head, and take money away from local governments in what has been purported to be the worst economic climate since the Great Depression?

I further ask why local officials are just sitting on their rights to a portion of the sales tax, instead of attacking the current regime in Columbus. I’m not contending that there is a legal forum to settle this dilemma, but the General Assembly foolishly made changes to the allocation schedule of LGF’s. This legislation is temporary and is effective for 2011 through 2013. In July of 2013 the “percentage of revenue” goes back into effect. However, what do we do until the formula is put back into effect?

The answer is simple. There should be a public outcry, channeled towards the Governor, (not the Unions) by both the citizens and the local governments. As stated before, the local governments collect the sales tax money, send it to Columbus, and then Columbus sends a portion of those dollars back to the municipalities that collected the funds as well as other government jurisdictions. You can call the money a commission, collection fee, bonus, or whatever you wish, just be sure to call it ours and not the State’s.

Call your elected officials and demand the General Assembly amend the wrong they have committed. We live in our towns, our cities, and our counties by choice. Keep Columbus out of our pockets.


2012 Top Cops Nomination Form

click here for the 2012 Top Cops nomination form.