Ruling permits citizen recordings of police

Appeals court rejects arguments by Rollins, Healey

WHILE BEACON HILL legislators haven’t moved yet to address Gov. Charlie Baker’s amendments to policing reform legislation, other efforts to improve law enforcement accountability are moving forward locally and in the courts this week.

 Earlier this week, the First Circuit Court of Appeals said people can’t be prosecuted under the state’s 1968 wiretapping statute for secretly recording police in a ruling that upheld part of a lower court order that countermanded a statewide ban on such recordings.

 The court heard arguments back in January about whether private citizens can audio and video record police in public spaces.

 In 2018, federal judge Patti Saris ruled private citizens do have that right, but Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins’s office appealed that ruling, saying the definition of what a public space is wasn’t narrow enough. 

Project Veritas, a group that focuses on free speech, argued that such recordings are protected by the First Amendment and people shouldn’t be arrested for making them. But Rollins, joined by Attorney General Maura Healey’s office said the state’s 1968 wiretapping law protects citizens from being recorded without their knowledge.

The appeals court upheld Saris’s ruling. Criminal defense attorney Keren Goldenberg writes that as a result of the court’s decision, open cases for secret recordings of police must be dismissed, and people previously convicted for the offense can seek to vacate those convictions.

 In Boston on Wednesday, the City Council approved a new independent office that will investigate and provide oversight of the local police department through a civilian review board.

 The creation of the Office of Police Accountability and Transparency, or OPAT, was passed 12-1 (Dorchester councilor Frank Baker was the sole no vote), and will be tasked with reviewing civilian complaints of the Boston Police Department.

 The ordinance was a compromise measure that merges a proposal of civilian oversight of police put forward by councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Andrea Campbell, and Julia Mejia and measures proposed by Mayor Marty Walsh and his police reform task force.The office will also review Boston Police Department internal affairs cases.

 The council let go of its attempt to mandate that police commissioner William Gross be bound by the findings of the civilian review board after pushback by Councilor Michael Flaherty.

 The office will also have a three-member commission, each member appointed by the mayor, that will be given subpoena authority in OPAT’s investigations and will host public meetings about issues that arise.

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Sarah Betancourt

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

About Sarah Betancourt

Sarah Betancourt is a long-time Latina reporter in Massachusetts. Prior to joining Commonwealth, Sarah was a breaking news reporter for The Associated Press in Boston, and a correspondent with The Boston Globe and The Guardian. She has written about immigration, incarceration, and health policy for outlets like NBC, The Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, and the New York Law Journal. Sarah has reported stories such as a national look at teacher shortages, how databases are used by police departments to procure information on immigrants, and uncovered the spread of an infectious disease in children at a family detention center. She has covered the State House, local and national politics, crime and general assignment.

Sarah received a 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Award for her role in the ProPublica/NPR story, “They Got Hurt at Work and Then They Got Deported,” which explored how Florida employers and insurance companies were getting out of paying workers compensation benefits by using a state law to ensure injured undocumented workers were arrested or deported. Sarah attended Emerson College for a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Communication, and Columbia University for a fellowship and Master’s degree with the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism.

 Walsh must sign the ordinance for it to go into effect, but the council passed the measure by a veto-proof majority so it’s likely going to happen..

Meanwhile, the public waits to see how the Legislature moves on Baker’s amendments. The governor agreed with parts of policing reform legislation, but sent back an amendment that put law enforcement personnel within his administration and not a civilian-dominated commission in charge of developing police training programs.

 Other amendments also eliminated a ban on police use of facial recognition software, and struck out language focused on requiring the Department of Correction to pursue prisoner releases to home confinement and medical parole during the pandemic, along with widespread surveillance testing.