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Month: September 2015

California Senate Bill 411 Signed into Law—Legal to Film Police Officers

Many California citizens have heard the demand from the police: “Sir, please turn off the camera,” or “turn off the camera, or we’ll arrest you,” or words to that effect. What most of us know who have had contacts with law enforcement, is that most cops hate filming. From the academy training onward they reject this idea of being filmed. Police have the training to protect the city from potential lawsuits and to “take charge.” In fact, this remains contrary to what most people think. But the job of the police is not to protect citizens or their property.

Supreme Court Rules:

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm. Even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent…  (See also NY Times.)

The primary job of the municipal police is to protect gov. property, personnel and “policy.” (eg police.)

  • Officer safety, and many other reasons are given as reasons for police not being caught on tape.

According to attorney Michael Ehline:

When a citizen does not comply, many times he or she finds a ride to the local jail. The accused will face thousands in attorney’s fees for fighting off a frivolous Penal Code Section 148 charge.  But courts have already made clear that citizens can film police. Of course, this is with certain exceptions. For example, safety demands that filmers be well clear of the potential danger zone.

In the Golden State, each jurisdiction and department want to handle these primarily “false arrest” cases differently. Sadly, the many state prosecutorial agencies needed to see it in writing from the governor. So till that happened, they failed to force their officers to start honoring the law on filming police. But Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Bill 411. So now California is in accord with the Supreme Court on filming police while on duty.

This means when police officers detain a suspect or make an arrest, witnesses can use cell phones to record the incidents. Even the person that is detained may record the event. In the past, many of the recorded videos have later posted to social media websites or YouTube. Many have gone viral. According to Sacramento County Sgt. Jason Ramos, it is the way the world has become. Cops hate it!

  • Yawn

Sgt. Ramos did say that in many cases the officer’s jobs are more due to recording activity. So there is a potential for officers to become preoccupied with the people making the videos. The law officer went on to say there is a “fine line between being a diligent citizen with a camera and interfering.” I call nonsense. A diligent person would just remain outside the zone of interference. Then they would exercise good judgment. The film of the altercation can at least show evidence of reasonableness, or not.

Senate Bill 411

State Senator Ricardo Lara was the author of Senate Bill 411. And he says he believes it is important for it to be clear in a statute. Now an average person can lawfully record a police officer without concern of arrest or intimidated.  Of course, knowing cops as I know them, this will not stop cameras from being stomped. Also, other methods will likely get employed to “get control.”

Lara said that having the code in the state’s law helps cell phone evidence keep people safe. The new law comes after an early August incident. In that case, a Rohnert Park officer pointed a gun at a man who recorded the event on his cell phone. The officer is now facing a lawsuit. One of the cell phone videos recorded made national headlines. This was the Eric Garner choking video.

Lara said everyone has cell phones today. And now they  may find use to “deter violence.” The Garner video is one of the examples. And mobile videos can provide evidence in police wrong doing investigations. The Senator did make it clear that the bill does not in any way give citizens the legal right to interfere with police. But this is already what the law was before the bill passing.

Bill 411 Support

Sen. Lara had support from the ACLU for the bill. Lara said in a written statement the bill would help to ensure every citizen can exercise their Constitutional right. Making audio or video recordings or taking photos is a protected right. The letter goes on to say it is a “clear constitutional right to photograph and record the police in the performance of their duties.”

The letter ends by stating the bill ensures the public’s right to gather information about their officials. Also, it shows abuses. And it may have an effect on the functioning of government in a more general sense. We applaud the ACLU’s efforts at getting the state to notify its agencies. But we question the need to spend so much time and effort on this bill. Passing a law to mandate what already is the law, is not an efficient administration of justice. Also, it sheds light on why jury nullification is making more and more sense.

More Reading:

http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/recording-police-officers-and-public-officials   Recording Police Officers and Public Officials | Digital Media Law Project

https://www.aclunc.org/our-work/know-your-rights/your-rights-and-police   ACLU of Northern California  Title: Know Your Rights: Police Interactions

California Weather and Icy Roadways

Ice machines in front of a store covered in snow during a storm.
Ice machines in front of a store covered in snow during a storm.

For people residing or passing through Southern California, snow and ice are not what they typically will encounter unless they drive up into the mountains during the winter time. But amazingly, we experience black ice near the beach in areas like Rancho Palos Verdes, for example. So yeah, ice happens where ill-equipped California drivers least expect it.

Ice on the roadway is one of the most dangerous weather-related situations the California driver will likely face. This more dangerous than the rain and fog driver’s in California face. This is because the only comparable driving hazard would be hydroplaning on wet pavement. And this leaves the driver with no control.

Annually, the state of California reports that there are hundreds of serious motor vehicle accidents, with some resulting in fatalities due to the slippery condition of the roadways. In California the total percentage of accidents related to icy conditions on the road number much lower than non-weather related crashes, but even low in number collisions occurring on ice slicked roads warrant concern.

One of the most dangerous types of icing conditions on the roadway is called black ice. In fact, this is water that that freezes once night falls. And it is often not visible to drivers at night at all. In some cases the driver may see the ice illuminate from the headlights of the vehicle. But often there is no time to use extra caution driving on this section of the pavement.


Reducing Ice Related Accidents

Having a little knowledge is important during the colder months of the year and having access to current weather information can help. That way drivers and their passengers can remain safer. Being prepared for icy conditions is essential when operating a motor vehicle. But drivers must also be ready for the variety of weather conditions. Any of these can result in ice forming on roadways.

A few things to remember during cooler weather are:

  • If there is fog and the temperature is near freezing 32F, heavy icing is possible on asphalt and concrete.
  • Bridges often freeze before roadways in near freezing temperatures.
  • Low lying areas and valleys often have icing conditions first, since cold air settles in these areas.
  • When the sky is clear, but there is moisture on the road and the temperature falls below the upper 30’s the roads can become icy.

What Conditions Cause Icing on Roads if it isn’t Raining or Sleeting?

Ice on roadways is not always from rain or freezing rain. In fact, the moisture can come from several other weather factors and temperatures around 32F or freezing.

  • Fog settling on the roadway combined with freezing temperatures can cause heavy icing.
  • Frost, which is a collection of frozen moisture from the air that can be seen after sunset, during the night and early morning.
  • Water from snow that has melted during traffic from the warming of the roadway. Then when the roadway cools and temperatures dip during the day or at night causing the melted snow water to freeze.
  • Ground water seepage, which then freezes on the road due to the air temperature.
  • Freezing rain, which is also called sleet can build up on the road causing icy conditions rather than melting because of freezing air temperatures.

These conditions can occur one at a time. Or they can be a combination, with more than one making the roads hazardous.

Valleys and Low Lying Areas Present Special Dangers?

Valleys and low lying areas often have icy road conditions when other areas may not have any problems. This is because cold air is heavier and denser than warm air. So this causes it to move down from higher elevations, even if it’s only a minor hill.

Clear nights with relatively few clouds results in colder temperatures and surfaces like asphalt tend to cool faster than the air above. This causes low lying areas to often be as much as 2-5 degrees colder than elevated areas a short distance away. City temperatures are warmer than rural areas. Thise remains true even at night because of the amount of traffic and buildings that retain heat from the daylight hours. But this is often a double edged sword. After all, the warmth can melt freezing rain, snow and rain from creating slick conditions.

When the traffic slows and evening falls, temperatures decrease. So this causes water on the roadway to freeze when the temperatures are low. There are some areas where the air may be colder than other areas. And this is referred to in meteorology terms as thermal signatures. But it is difficult to see at night.

Fog and Ice

Fog occurs when there is moisture in the air and temperatures drop the dew point. This moisture is thick and dense containing large amounts of water. So it is carried by air current and passes over roadways. And if the temperature is below freezing it can result in severe icing in a matter of minutes. And that can happen on an otherwise clear night. Cold nights with fog blanketing a roadway can, and has resulted in numerous serious accidents. They were due to roadway icing when temperatures dipped into the mid 30’s.

Frost and Icy Roadways

Frost is moisture that settles on the ground on cool and usually clear nights with low wind speeds, usually under 10 mph. The creation of frost touches on infrared radiation. And these clouds absorb and emit and warmer objects emit more infrared radiation. But on clear nights, the surface or ground emits infrared radiation without the clouds to absorb. So thi is lost to space, resulting in the surface and air to cooling rapidly.

The air away from the surface is warmer. And the increasing height of the air is referred to as inversion. Cloudy night inversion does not occur. This is because the clouds basically blanket the surface by preventing the quick loss of infrared radiation or heat. Air contains water vapor that cannot be seen until it condenses into ice crystals. And the amount of water air can contain varies with the temperature.

Warmer air contains more water vapor. And if the air is cooled to the dew point, the moisture cannot be held as an invisible gas in the air. This forces the water vapor to condense into drops or ice crystals falling from the air. The ground surface being cooled to near freezing temperatures from night temperatures.

And the air reaching the dew point results in frost. This is why when the sun is out, frost is not seen and melts rapidly from surfaces. All of this is from the rise in temperature or increased infrared radiation.

The more vapor there is in the air, the more frost will form. So you will see it in areas with swamps, lakes and ponds. They will have a higher density of vapor in the air and result in a thicker blanket of frost. Frost is also more prevalent in lower lying areas than in higher elevations where wind speeds are usually lower. Generally frost does not accumulate more than 1/16 of an inch. And while that seems like a minute amount of the ice crystals, it can create a dangerous situation on roadways where it has formed.

This thin coating of ice can make it harder to stop. Also, other driving functions remain more difficult. Frost is responsible for numerous motor vehicle accidents due to the thin coating of ice on roadways it creates. Drivers should be alert to roadway conditions when the sky is basically cloud free and the night air temperatures are in the mid 30’s.

Freezing Rain

This is rain that has frozen due to the air temperatures or nearly frozen and may be referred to as freezing rain, sleet or drizzle. The way this occurs is because of a layer of air. Now it is below freezing near the surface. But warmer air is above freezing higher in the atmosphere.

As the rain falls because the air higher is warm and passes through the temperatures that are below freezing it then freezes upon hitting the surface. This rain turns into a glazing ice on the surfaces. This is because of being cooled. And it has the ability to make tree limbs heavy enough to snap and power lines. This can make driving dangerous.

Areas of California can experience freezing rain. This happens when the air temperatures are right and helped by low level cold. This comes with warm rain from the Pacific. This results in rain freezing on contact with the surface. So this makes higher elevations treacherous because of the warm Pacific weather systems. These are coming into the coast where warm rain falls. So the air temperatures are in the area of 32 degrees. Hence, it causes freezing rain. And in higher mountain locations of the state it often changes over to snow. High winds can result in temperatures plummeting and result in freezing surface areas.

Snow and Ground Water Seepage

Ground water in lower lying areas and melted snow in the upper elevations of California can freeze as the temperatures drop. During the day roadways heat up due to traffic and the warmer daytime temperatures. This causes water seepage or melted snow to keep from freezing on the asphalt. Once the traffic slows and the night temperatures begin, this standing water or wet asphalt can freeze. So this results in dangerous driving conditions for motorists.

Roadways made of pavement also known as blacktop roads heat up by absorbing heat from the sun. And this melts any ice. But as soon as dusk arrives, there is no longer heat absorption. So the road quickly cools. And if the temperatures are freezing, the seepage or melted snow freezes. This is particularly the case if there are few clouds in the sky. But this is because cloud cover acts as an insulator during cold weather.

Any time the road surface temperature is above freezing during the day, but falls below freezing at night they can become icy and hazardous for motorists. This condition often occurs on roads that have had the snow plowed in higher elevations. And it takes place in lower elevations where there is a water source that spreads. On cold nights without cloud cover, the cold night air causes evaporation of heat from the roadway. And then with the temperatures near freezing the wet areas turns to ice even in low areas where cold air tends to pool.

Slush

Slush is melted snow that generally affects the higher elevations in the state of California. And this is caused when snow begins to fall rapidly. Then the road surface is warm due to the sun and traffic. But when the temperatures fall either quickly or because of the lack of warm the partially melted snow freezes and are called slush. This is a mixture of snow, and ice. And while it is much wetter than snow alone, it is also more hazardous for drivers. Plus, it can turn to solid ice in the right temperatures.

Bridges Freeze Before Roadways

Bridges often freeze before roadways become icy for a number of reasons. First it may depend on the material the bridge is made from as they often are not covered with asphalt. But might be concrete. Concrete does not hold the same warmth as asphalt because of sun radiation and traffic. So this means the colder temperature, the faster the bridge will become dangerous during winter driving conditions. Bridges also do not have ground beneath them. So this leaves no room for more cold air to affect the temperature of the bridge, even if it is covered with pavement.

Another factor why bridges may freeze quicker than roadways is because they might not absorb the same amount of heat as the roadway the wet conditions from rain. Plus, freezing rain or snow may not completely melt. Or if it does melt, the surface does not dry because the water may have no place to drain. When night temperatures or rapidly falling temperatures occur, the surface cools fast. So this makes a perfect condition for the liquid to freeze.

Air Temperature and Surface Temperature

Air temperature is generally determined using a thermometer about five feet from the ground. And often it remains in an enclosed shelter. This is how official weather reports are decided for daily and nightly temperatures. But roadway and other surface temperatures are far different than the temperature taken above the surface. And this is since cold is heavier from moisture contained in the air. The ground temperature can be between 2 and 5 degrees cooler than air temperature. This is why frost can occur even when the air temperature is between 35 and 37 degrees. And this is a temperature that is above freezing.

During the day, the road temperature can often be warmer than the air temperature. But this is due to cars and trucks warming the surface, along with the sun’s radiation. Once the night temperature falls and traffic decreases the warmth of the surface decreases. And on nights that have few clouds, the surface temperature cools rapidly. Icing conditions can occur when the surface temperature hits 32 degrees. Yet the air temperature may be as high as 37 degrees.

Temperatures and Ice Slippery Conditions

Temperature changes during icy conditions can mean the ice changes and can become more slippery as the temperature warms to near freezing. This is because of the way ice is formed on surfaces according to science. Ice has a thin layer of water on the outside even when the temperatures are below freezing. This layer of water makes the ice slippery and is thickest when the temperature nears freezing. And then it thins when the temperature well below 32 degrees.

This creates a condition where the ice is the most slippery when the temperatures are between 26 and 32 degrees. When the temperature reaches single digits and below 0 degrees the ice becomes less slippery. So this means the most caution should be used by motorists when the air temperature is between 32 and 26 degrees. And this is since the ice on roadways will be the most dangerous.


Other Effects

  • Trees and Objects

Trees near roadways can cause shading of the surface as well as hills and other objects. And this can result in the potential icing of roads. Trees that overhang on roadways or objects that cover the road can actually block the loss of infrared heading from the sun.

Often when frost is seen on the grass and other surfaces including roads a driveway may contain frost. But the car might not if it was parked underneath a carport. This is because the roof of the carport would have reduced the amount of heat loss or air containing moisture. The other side of this is roadways that do become icy and have tree cover may remain icy much later into the day. This is because the tree cover is shielding the roadway from absorbing infrared heat from the sun. So until the sun moves to a location where the roadway can absorb the heat it remains icy.

Because driver’s may not take this situation into consideration or may not be prepared for these unexpected areas of ice. And this might last later into the day or even all day. This is where motorists can hit unexpected areas of ice protected by shade. So this leads to car accidents that are often fatal.


Night Temperatures and Icing

Nights that are clear and cold result in the surface losing heat quickly. And this generally occurs within the first three or four hours after sunset. The temperatures can even begin falling before sunset on surfaces such as roadway areas that have shade from trees and other objects. In colder temperatures this can create icing conditions on these parts of the roadway earlier in the day. And the temperature of the surface will continue to drop more rapidly than other areas if there are no clouds or fog.

Temperatures will fall slowly during the night and be the lowest near sunrise or a short time after sunrise. Nights that have fog will have less ice conditions on surfaces than clear nights. This is because the fog acts as a thermal blanket. But the nights that have icing remain the largest threat between the hours of 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m.

Threat of Roadway Ice Tips

During months of cool or cold weather, motorists may be safer using some of the information about what causes icy conditions and keeping them in mind while driving.

  • Clear Sky: When the sky is clear when the weather is cool, especially at night the night temperatures can rapidly fall near or after sunset. Monitoring local weather channels can help to determine clear skies and night time temperatures.
  • Official weather temperatures are observed by thermometers that are approximately 5 feet from the surface. So this means surface temperatures can be several degrees colder. If the air temperature is 37 degrees the surface temperature can actually be 32 degrees or freezing. This means moisture in the air or rain can freeze on contact with the surface or within a short amount of time.
  • There are websites that have real time weather and surface temperature information for the state of California motorists can use to determine if their location or one they will travel too has issues with rain, frost, snow or ice on the roadways. Using the temperatures, cloud, fog or clear skies motorists can also determine possible driving conditions.
  • Fog is something motorists should pay close attention to during days of cool weather. When the temperature is below the mid 30’s and there is fog, it can travel over roadway surfaces and leave large amounts of ice quickly. This is especially important in areas where there are wet or swampy areas and river valleys. Areas where this is a possible scenario and the road is curvy extreme caution should be used by the driver on cold nights.
  • Roadway areas that may be shaded from the sun on nights when the roads become icy may have ice until later in the morning and in some cases it may remain on this area of the roadway all day when temperatures remain in the 30’s.
  • Unforeseen objects: During conditions when ice may be a factor on the roadway caution should be used and the potential for unforeseen objects such as animals. This combination has the potential for fatal accidents.

As can be seen, ice sheets can form on the road surfaces in many parts of the Golden State. Reaction times and control over vehicles can be severely compromised during icy conditions. California drivers not accustomed to icy road conditions are at particular risk of losing control. So they are cautioned to reduce vehicles speeds when traversing areas where frost has developed in the surrounding vicinity.

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