"Police officers may nominally be dedicated to serving and protecting. But even the best cop can't guarantee your freedom or your safety, while the worst can threaten both."
-Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News Channel
Rhode Island Cop Convicted of Felony Assault for Kicking Handcuffed Woman in the Face (Click pic to view news story)
"Naturally, there are good cops and bad cops, just like lawyers, dentists and mechanics, but bad cops are perjurers with guns; they are thieves robbing civil rights and hooligans brutalizing the powerless, just as surely as any outlaw, gangster or domestic terrorist, dismantling democracy with every corrupt transgression."
-Dave Jake Schwartz, Sonoma County DUI Lawyer
Local Sonoma County Citizen Efforts
The Santa Rosa Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline (PACH) is a Sonoma County all-volunteer non-profit organization, funded by the ACLU and private donations, which identifies and reports on abusive police officers and practices. The PACH website states that it exists to document police abuse, and to help survivors of Police Abuse find safety and support. PACH also participates in community based civil rights education. PACH may be reached at (707) 542-7224.
In 1990, the original Copwatch group, Berkeley Copwatch, began on Telegraph Avenue as an all-volunteer organization dedicated to monitoring police actions and non-violently asserting rights against the police. Since that time, many Copwatch-type organizations have sprung up across the nation, in various forms. You may wish to visit the websites for Santa Rosa Copwatch and Petaluma Copwatch (Humboldt County: Redwood Curtain Copwatch), and consider their suggestion to memorize key phrases such as "AM I BEING DETAINED?" and "I DO NOT CONSENT," as well as their suggestion that if you see a police-civilian encounter, stop, observe, and film the incident. See also selected videos at Copwatch News, and for Napa County, see, Napa County Cop Block.
Protected Speech: Filming Police Encounters
Make No Mistake, Filming the Police is a Dangerous Risk: Although Sonoma County DUI attorneys and civil rights lawyers believe that filming the police engaged in their public duties is fully legal and constitutionally protected conduct, nevertheless, one who decides to film the police assumes enormous personal risk of harrassment, injury and arrest. Convictions for violating state laws against filming anyone, including the police, without their prior consent have been upheld by some state courts, notably Massachusettes, Illinois and Maryland (see Gizmodo's "Are Cameras the New Guns?").
The police are not often pleased to see anyone videotaping them. Numerous police agencies and police unions around the country have raised personal privacy objections, as well as claims of interference and public safety objections to such activity. The libertarian think tank CATO Institute states that the police continue to harass those who record police encounters. You may want to view their video, Cops on Camera.
Arrests and civil rights law suits testing the fortitutde of the First Amendment are increasingly common in Jake's Sonoma County DUI Lawyer monthly reports of police excess and abuse posted on this very web page directly below, picked from the National Police Misconduct News Feed on Twitter.
Think First: If you decide to engage this risk, then remember that an effective, useful observer typically maintains a safe and objective distance rather than becoming a distracting, escalating or otherwise subjective participant in the incident.
Information to Collect: If you decide to record or film a Santa Rosa DUI arrest, or any other Sonoma County citizen-police encounter, then get witness statements with names and numbers. Immediately write down as much detail as you remember, including developments prior to filming. Add the names of police agencies, cop names or descriptions, badge & license plate numbers, date, time, and location. Then, in the next 45 days, search the local Sonoma County police agency logs (for example, Sonoma County Sheriff, CHP, Santa Rosa, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Sebastopol police departments), and the press and internet, for the arrestee's name and contact information; any offer of film copy, witness statements and other information will likely be met with high praise and gratitude by anyone who believes they were victims of police excess.
Protected Speech: Angry Insults Directed at Police
But Cursing a Judge: NOT Protected Speech
Asserting Your Rights Can Hurt: Just like other conduct perceived by police to challenge their street authority (see discussion above about filming police encounters), any good Santa Rosa DUI attorney or civil rights lawyer would caution that hurling insulting speech or making obscene gestures at cops undeniably heightens the risk of excessive police force, injury and arrest, but there is no doubt that, absent evidence such as incitement, police interference, or assault (in your face behavior), simply directing expletives and obscene hand gestures at law enforcement officers has long been held by courts to be expressions of disapproval toward the police, and therefore, protected by the First Amendment. Knowledgeable Sonoma County DUI lawyers will tell you, it is clearly established that police officers may not use their authority to punish an individual for exercising his or her First Amendment rights. For a good discussion of expletives aimed at the police, and unconstitutional police retaliation, see, Ford v. Yakima (9th Cir 2013). See also, Merenda v. Tabor (11th Cir. 2013) for an examination of factors which might justify an arrest. For good discussions of flipping the bird at the police, see, Hackbart v. Pittsburgh (W.D. PA 2009), and UC Davis Law Review, "The Middle Finger and the Law (2008).