Let the cameras roll
At the Wednesday, Nov. 28, Searsport Planning Board public hearing on a proposed liquid petroleum gas tank, police removed a resident they felt was disrupting the meeting. Police have said the man, Ben Crimaudo of Searsport, was warned several times and his removal was fair, while opponents of the tank have said they did not find his behavior disruptive at all.
We aren't going to weigh in on the police officer's decision to remove Crimaudo. That will play out within Searsport as town officials review the incident. What concerned us happened after the man was removed.
Police, tank opponents and members of the local media all crowded into the hallway behind the auditorium in Searsport District High School, where the meeting was taking place. Several reporters were taking still photos, while a WERU reporter recorded video. It was at this point that police ordered that the video camera be turned off, which we find unacceptable.
It is coincidental that this happened on Nov. 28, a mere two days after a decision by the Supreme Court in essence affirmed the right of private citizens to film an on-duty police officer. The court declined to review a decision by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocking the enforcement of an Illinois eavesdropping law. One of the results of that law — had it been allowed to take effect — would have been to make it illegal to film police. By not reviewing the Appeals Court decision, the Supreme Court let that decision stand.
The case for filming police, especially as carried out by members of the press, is clear. Taping a police action could record or even deter improper action by police. To be clear, the Searsport Police were acting in a respectful and professional manner at the time (with the exception of asking for the camera be turned off).
What bothered us was the reflexive negative response to a video camera by the police. Americans have a right, affirmed in court, to document the actions of on-duty officers. Police officers must recognize this and focus on performing their duties properly, not on limiting evidence of what transpires.
A welcome break
After a week of public hearings regarding the proposal from DCP Midstream to construct an LPG storage tank at Mack Point, we think it's fair to say that, while we're glad the public has been able to weigh in, we're also happy to see a brief break in all tank-related activities.
One, we're pretty sure we're not alone when we say that we're excited to have a few evenings back with our families during the week. Many of the hundreds of residents who attended came back for all five of the hearings, some of which spanned as much as four hours, and we hope those locals will enjoy the time off, too. And that certainly goes for members of the Searsport Planning Board, all of whom absorbed an unbelievable amount of information from both sides of the issue over the course of the week.
That said, we feel the break will also give everyone involved — whether they're for, against, or on the fence about the project proposal — the chance to consider all of the information they heard last week, and to think about the kinds of questions they may want to ask when the public hearings reconvene in January.
The Searsport Planning Board has done a fantastic job of working its way through the application review process so far, and we've been pleased to see how much emphasis Planning Board Chairman Bruce Probert has placed on the importance of allowing everyone to be heard.
We also appreciate the regular reminders from Probert throughout the course of the hearings that the town is engaged in an ongoing process with regard to the application from DCP Midstream. Probert assured residents that no decision has been made on the application, nor would the Board vote to either grant or deny the application until after the public hearings are completed.
This proposed development is one of the largest we've seen in this area in recent years, and we think it's necessary to approach something of this size and scope as carefully as possible.