My Trip to Court and the Stories Cops Tell

Sometimes I think there is some central office somewhere writing scripts for police departments to read when they need to oppose (support) something. No matter what city or state, or what issue we’re talking about, police arguments are almost exactly the same.

“If this happens (or doesn’t happen) criminals will have free rein and officers will die in the streets.”

Seriously, that’s barely even hyperbole.

I heard a variation on this theme at my court hearing last week.

Yes. I went to court.

If you haven’t heard, the City of Lexington, Kentucky, sued me. Why? Because I asked the wrong questions.

Last summer, I filed an open records request in an attempt to find out what kind of surveillance technology the Lexington Police Department uses and how it operates its surveillance programs. That’s apparently on a need to know basis and the good citizens of Lexington do not need to know.

I did find out the LPD has 29 super-secret “mobile” surveillance cameras. What does that mean? Well, they could tell me, but then they’d have to shoot me — apparently.

After the city denied my open records request, I appealed to the state attorney general – the process here in Kentucky. The AG sided with me, basically said the police department’s justification for hiding the documents was bovine scat and ordered the city to turn over the documents.

That didn’t happen. Instead, the city sued me.

Basically, the city claims telling us about their cameras would put an “undue burden” on them. They claim if people knew about their super-secret, covert surveillance cameras, criminals would be able to avoid them.

If that’s true, they aren’t doing “covert” right.

And of course, they also talked about a threat to “officer safety.”

It sounded almost exactly like the arguments police lobbyists used when they testified in opposition to a Minnesota bill to reform asset forfeiture laws. And the arguments police lobbyists used in opposition to a California bill to require local government approval before cops can buy surveillance technology. And the arguments police used to oppose proposals to limit militarization of cops in – pick the state.

Well, I call B.S.

Basically, police want to operate with no limits. No oversight. No accountability.

Sadly, police have powerful lobbying groups that carry a lot of sway over legislators. It takes a lot of grassroots pressure to fight this.

But we can fight it. We just have to be as persistent as they are. Their arguments are silly. They only succeed when they aren’t challenged. It’s up to us to challenge them. All of us!

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