Suspects may get a break p.8

By: David Noack Questions raised about whether 'perp walks' and 'ride-alongs' are constitutional

The police custom of parading defendants before the press, the "perp walk," and letting reporters and photographers enter residences during so-called "ride-alongs" with the cops, may be in for some drastic changes.
The two practices, which serve the interests of the media and police, have recently come under fire. A federal judge in New York declared the perp walk unconstitutional and the nation's top court questioned whether law enforcement agents should allow reporters and photographers to accompany them when they enter a residence.
The actions have prompted journalists to question the news value of these events, whether they foster an unhealthy co-dependency, and if the practices disappeared tomorrow, would anyone care?
The perp walk case involves a former doorman who sued New York City, the police department, and a detective, after he was posed in front of a television station's camera. The TV station had requested a perp walk and the police obliged.
The ride-along legal challenge stems from a case in which CNN was sued by a Montana couple after the all-news outlet accompanied federal agents on their property, searching for evidence that eagles were being illegally killed. Another case that challenges the ride-along is a lawsuit against federal agents who took a Washington Post reporter and photographer into a Maryland couple's house in an attempt to arrest their son, a fugitive. The Post was not named in the lawsuit.
Cissy Taylor, crime reporter for The Union Leader in Manchester, N.H., argues that the two practices should continue.
"I think the ride-along and the perp walk have legitimate news value. I have written features and hard news stories about the ride-alongs, whether it was with a cop on the beat, a narcotics officer, or someone running a sting on hookers and johns," says Taylor.
Vicki Sylar, a reporter with WXOW-TV in La Crosse, Wis., says when covering court cases in Minnesota, which does not allow cameras in the courtroom, the perp walk is sometimes the only way to get a picture of a defendant.
She cites the case of a LaCrosse County probation officer who was arrested in November 1997 in Winona, Minn., on burglary charges.
"His perp walk was the only access we had to get video of him," says Sylar, who adds that they did have a still photograph of the suspect but needed moving pictures.
Bill Johnson, a former AP reporter and editor, says the media shouldn't tag along with the cops.
"The media has no business being along on such raids, or at any other time when the cops go into a private residence. I'm surprised that more people haven't sued. In my opinion, the First Amendment does not give a reporter the right to intrude on someone else's privacy," says Johnson.


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