Police union warns NOPD about camera-carrying activists

Published: Nov. 22, 2013 at 3:45 AM CST|Updated: Nov. 29, 2013 at 4:10 AM CST
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NEW ORLEANS - A group known for confronting police officers across the country with video cameras has arrived in New Orleans, according to the New Orleans Police Department.

The group calls itself Cop Block.

Members record videos of police in action and, sometimes, try to interact with officers. In one video posted to YouTube, a founding member explains the group's mission.

"I started CopBlock.org as a peaceful way to help get police accountability. We like to say the camera is the new gun," the member said. "We do not hate cops. We believe that no one, not even those with badges, has extra rights."

According to NOPD officials, Cop Block members armed with cameras approached an officer at the department's headquarters Wednesday. Officials say it was a harmless encounter, but there are concerns the tactics could escalate.

"They do seem to antagonize officers," said Raymond Burkart III, an attorney with the Fraternal Order of Police.

Burkart said his group sent out an alert Thursday, telling officers to be aware.

The message said: "This group is known to attempt to provoke officers into over-reaction for the purpose of capturing that over-reaction on videotape."

"The point of the warning is simply to remind our officers that people have a First Amendment right to video you," Burkart said. "These people are in town, and take this opportunity, really, to show them how professional we really are. Our officers are used to people trying to antagonize them, and our officers are trained to handle that type of treatment from the public in a calm, professional manner."

Burkart sees no problem with group members recording officers, but he also says they can go too far.

"There is a limit, and it's a safety and a privacy issue," he said. "These videos, number one, could be used and seized as evidence. Number two, these people need to ensure that they maintain a safe distance from any police scene. Number three, there are privacy concerns, not for the police officer, but for the person with whom the police officer is interacting."

An NOPD spokesperson said the officer who was approached Wednesday responded politely, as the officer was aware that the group members were acting in a legal manner. However, the spokesperson points out that the videos uploaded to the group's website seem to include mostly negative encounters.

The NOPD is set to outfit all of its officers with their own body cameras in the coming months,  allowing them to document interactions with the public.

Cop Block did not respond to FOX 8's request for comment on this story.