WNY affirms citizen’s right to record police activity


WEST NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Town of West New York have struck an agreement affirming the right of town citizens to film and record the police.
A city press release states that the policy will guarantee that as long as individuals do not interfere with their operations, they can record West New York officers. The department will undergo training and supervision to administer the changes.
The decision comes almost two years after an incident involving a local resident and police. Cesar Sanchez was heading home in July 2015, when he noticed officers forcefully arresting two teenagers. He pulled out his phone to record the incident, but reluctantly complied with the officers’ requests for him to put it away.
However, Sanchez refused to show his ID when requested, noting it was his legal right to do so. The officers arrested Sanchez in response.
Despite the municipal prosecutor dropping all charges against Sanchez, the ACLU-NJ filed suit to force West New York to change its policy on people filming officers. This resulting settlement, in which the town has no admission of liability, allows residents an avenue to hold police responsible, legal experts said.
“Cellphone cameras have become an essential tool for holding police accountable to the public they serve and protect,” said ACLU-NJ lawyer Rebecca Livengood, who represented Sanchez. “West New York has acted admirably in adopting a policy that promotes transparency in police conduct and respect between police and the public.”
“The policy closely follows the state of the law with respect to recording or videotaping police activity in public,” said Robert Levy, a lawyer for firm Scarinci Hollenbeck LLC (which represents West New York), speaking with the Hudson Reporter. “It provides protection for those who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights, as well as protection to the police officers to be able to perform their duties and accumulate evidence in a lawful manner.”
Mayor Felix Roque closely echoed Levy’s sentiment in his comments on the decision. “Once the governing body became aware of the lawsuit filed by the ACLU, it worked quickly to develop a policy to publicly clarify the rights of citizens to film police activity as well as to ensure law enforcement can perform its duties without unlawful interference,” Roque said. “The policy, which has already been incorporated into the police manual, carefully balances First Amendment Rights and police investigative needs.”