A Pennsylvania police officer walked away instead of taking an accident report because a man at the scene of the accident was filming him.
The description of a YouTube video taken of the incident said a “woman hit my car and walked away laughing.”
When police saw that the car owner’s friend was filming him, Lancaster police officer Philip Bernot allegedly got back into his cruiser and left.
“I called the police. When they arrived the officer, Philip Bernot. Told me that it was illegal to film police and refused to speak to me on camera. All I wanted to do was file a report for my insurance. I called the desk sergeant who told me that it is the Lancaster PD’s policy not to allow their officers to be filmed.”
The department manual seems to allow the recording of officers.
“It is the policy of the Manheim Township Police Department to recognize the legal standing of members of the public to make video/audio recordings of police officers and civilian employees who are carrying out their official police duties in an area open to the public, and by citizens who have a legal right to be in an area where police are operating, such as a person’s home or business,” the manual says. “However, this right does not prevent officers from taking measures to ensure that such activity and recording does not interfere or impeded with the officer’s law enforcement and public safety purpose.”
But the policy is overwritten by the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act. A 2007 update to the Lancaster police department manual says citizens can film an officer, but not record the officer talking.
According to the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press, recording statutes in the state say, “It is unlawful to record an ‘oral communication,’ which is defined as ‘any oral communication uttered by a person possessing an expectation that such communication is not subject to interception under circumstances justifying such expectation’ without first obtaining the consent of all parties engaged in the conversation.”
Concerned citizens say this interpretation of the wiretap law is unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment right to free speech.
The car owner is asking for citizens to call the Lancaster police "ask them why their policy violates the 1st amendment."