Police in the city of Santa Ana were accused by a city council member this week of blaring copyrighted Disney songs from Toy Story and Mulan while driving through a residential neighborhood in a gambit to prevent any citizen observer-shot video from going viral online.
On Tuesday, Santa Ana Councilman Johnathan Ryan Hernandez said during a City Council meeting that he would like lawmakers to ban the practice he believes he witnessed earlier this month. In a video that has gone viral with nearly 200,000 views, Hernandez is seen confronting and then dressing-down a police officer over the obnoxiously loud music coming from the police vehicle as he is being filmed by a local activist.
The incident took place in early April and may be indicative of a growing police tactic in California being used to avoid bad press—and the reprimands, from suspensions to prison sentences, that are increasingly being handed to officers whose misconduct is widely seen online.
The officers were possibly operating under the widely-held belief that YouTube scans all videos for copyrighted music and will block them from the platform. On April 5, a video of this incident was posted to the YouTube channel Santa Ana Audits, which has pulled in about 3500 followers since it was launched in December to chronicle citizen interactions with the local cops.
In the nearly 13-minute video, multiple Santa Ana Police vehicles and officers can be seen across a stretch of the city at night while they were apparently investigating a report of a stolen vehicle, as CNN reported. As the officers move down the street, Randy Newman’s “You Have a Friend in Me” from Toy Story and Lea Salonga belting out “Reflection” from Mulan can be heard coming from one of the department’s vehicles. The videographer asks the officers to turn down the music but is ignored. As the latter song reverberated through the neighborhood, local Councilman Hernandez, who represents Ward 5 in Santa Ana, is seen approaching the scene.
“You guys get paid to play loud music and stand around?” Hernandez boldly asks the officers and the interaction quickly turns into a scolding of one of the cops by the councilman, who tells him that “my people live here, brother—please treat them with respect” and reminds the officer that yes, local kids need to go to school the following day and many tax-paying residents were working, too, as he caused a loud nighttime disturbance.
Local residents later told CBS2 that the music was “louder than my car stereo” and “very annoying.”
“You chose to use our taxpayer dollars to disrespect the man with your music,” Hernandez said. “That’s childish.”
It’s officially unclear if this was, in fact, a tactic being used by the Santa Ana cops at the time of the confrontation. But the man shooting the video for Santa Ana Audits certainly believed so, as he was heard shouting this in the clip, and Hernandez later told CBS2 that the officer admitted to playing the music loudly “because of copyright violations,” as the network phrased his words in their report.
In a statement posted to its Instagram account, the Santa Ana Police Department gestured toward the idea that they’re responsible for investigating such an incident but didn’t quite say how, when, or even if this one will be probed. Police Chief David Valkentin also responded by saying that “my expectation is that all Police Department employees perform their duties with dignity and respect in the community we are hired to serve.”
This week, Hernandez took the matter to a Santa Ana City Council meeting where he called the blaring of music—in what he says he believes is a tactic to prevent observer videos from being posted online—an “unethical practice” that the city cannot condone.
“There is no reasoning to ever behave this way with members of the public, especially if you are an officer with a badge and a gun,” Hernandez said.
The issue will be revisited after the city attorney drafts a formal proposal.
A rep for YouTube told CNN that the platform has a system that aids in the tracking of copyright infringement claims but that videos containing copyrighted content are not automatically removed.
This is not the first incident of what appears to be this tactic to avoid online posting of bystander videos in California.
In July, an Alameda County Sheriff’s Office sergeant was investigated after he was seen in an observer video blaring Taylor Swift’s hit song “Blank Space” during a protest on the steps of the Oakland courthouse in July. Demonstrators were there during a pre-trial hearing of San Leandro Police Officer Jason Fletcher, who is currently facing voluntary manslaughter charges for the murder of Steven Taylor in a Walmart in 2020.
When questioned by demonstrators from the Justice for Steven Taylor coalition and Anti-Police Terror Project about why he was playing the song on his phone, he was quick to respond.
“You can record all you want, I just know it can’t be posted on YouTube,” Sgt. Shelby says in the video,” Sheriff’s Deputy David Shelby is heard saying in a video of the incident.
What seems to be another similar instance that took place in Beverly Hills was reported on by Vice in February 2021. That cop went with “Santeria” by Sublime.
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